The CDC Has Issued a New Definition of Close Contact as It Relates to COVID-19
As the holiday season approaches, experts are weighing in on how to safely spend time around others while celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving. While social distancing and wearing face masks have become part of our daily lives, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is redefining what constitutes "close contact." The CDC previously defined close contact as being within six feet of someone who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes. The new guidelines, issued on Wednesday, October 21, now define close contact as being within six feet of someone with the virus for a total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.
Experts say that 15 minutes is the average amount of time that it takes for transmission to occur, though it could happen in a much shorter or much longer period of time. This is why it's important to wear face masks and thoroughly wash your hands whenever coming in contact with someone outside of your social bubble. "There was nothing ever 'magical' about 15 minutes, that was just what the epidemiology was showing when most transmission occurred," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert, told HuffPost. "There are instances where a person has multiple contacts that are less than 15 minutes over a course of a day. That puts them at significant risk for contracting the virus."
The new guidelines came after a study of a Vermont-based prison found that a 20-year-old prison employee contracted coronavirus. In an eight-hour shift, the employee had 22 different 17-minute long interactions with individuals who later tested positive for the virus. The officer wore full PPE including a face mask, gown, and eye protection during all of the interactions. The infected individuals wore masks during most interactions with him. "This change underscores the importance of vigilant social distancing—even multiple brief interactions can pose a risk," Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Washington Post.
Experts say the new guidelines will most greatly impact schools and workplaces where staff and students have a number of short interactions with many different people. "While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual protection for everyone. When more people wear masks, more people are protected," the CDC wrote in their report.