The CDC Re-Defines “Close Contact”

Under the old Guidance, Close Contact was someone who had been within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 15 minutes or more.

Under the new Guidance, Close Contact is “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.”

On Wednesday, the CDC issued a new Guidance that expands the definition of “close contact” for purposes of exposure to COVID-19.

As you probably recall, the CDC has generally recommended that anyone having Close Contact with a COVID-19 positive individual stay home for fourteen (14) days after their last contact with the COVID-19 positive person.

I do not know what practical impact this new Guidance will have on the average person going about their daily business; I suspect not much. However, this expansion may significantly impact the application of Act 336. You will recall from my prior updates that Act 336 limits liability for civil damages for injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19: “…unless the person, government, or political subdivision failed to substantially comply with the applicable COVID-19 procedures established by the federal, state or local agency which governs the business operations and the injury or death was caused by the person’s, government’s, or political subdivision’s gross negligence or wanton or reckless misconduct.”

Although we don’t yet have any reported cases interpreting this aspect of the Act, it is almost certain that the new CDC Guidance will constitute a “procedure established by a federal agency” with which we must comply in order to enjoy the protections of Act 336. As you can see, this Guidance will significantly expand the scope of employees that you send home to self-quarantine for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19.

The CDC has not established procedures for tracking an employees’ cumulative exposure to COVID-19 over a 24-hour period. As an HR professional, I would alter both my written policies and my practices to incorporate this new. Showing that you made a good faith effort to comply with the Guidance may be a critical piece of evidence one day.

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