CDC Updated the Definition of Close Contact for COVID-19. What Does that Mean for You?

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the definition of "close contact" for COVID-19. The previous definition of close contact was someone who spent more than 15 consecutive minutes within 6 feet of an infected person. The new definition revises that to:

Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

There's a lot to unpack from this definition, so let's start with the time component. The revised definition says close contact occurs when someone spends 15 cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period (the old definition was consecutive minutes) within 6 feet of an infected person. The revised definition broadens what is considered close contact; not only do you want to avoid spending long periods of time with someone within 6 feet, you also want to start reducing the frequency of spending time with others within 6 feet to make sure you do not reach that 15 minute limit.

The second part of the definition relates to transmission potential and is most important for contact tracing. Most research studies show that an infected patient can begin to transmit SARS-CoV-2 two days before they start to have any symptoms. If you begin to feel sick or test positive, you will be asked to list the people you have come into contact with in the previous 48 hours who meet the revised definition of close contact. The list will no longer be limited to people you spent more than 15 consecutive minutes within a distance of 6 feet, but also people you meet with frequently within a distance of 6 feet and the total time of the meetings add up to more than 15 minutes.

How to Protect Yourself and Others

The best way to protect yourself is to assume that there is always a risk of virus transmission. That risk is reduced when you meet with others in your bubble, if you made one, but we advise that you still take precautions.

  1. If possible, do as much as possible remotely, like taking meetings over the phone or video conference instead of in person.

  2. When working outside of your home, always wear a mask.

  3. If you do have to come into contact with someone, maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance between others, limit the time of interaction, and meet outdoors, if possible.

Use our new Q&A service if you have a question about best practices for infectious disease prevention or contact us for more guidance.