CDC redefines ‘close contact’ guideline with COVID-positive people

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its coronavirus guidance on what it means to be a “close contact” of someone who has been infected.

In a move likely to impact schools, job sites, and group settings, the health agency updated its previous guidelines that said people are at higher risk of catching the deadly virus if they remain within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, the Washington Post said.

The new definition for “close contact” suggests people are more vulnerable if they come within six feet of someone who tested positive for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, the outlet reported.

The tweaked guidelines come on the heels of a report published Wednesday by the CDC and health officials in Vermont based on the experience of a prison employee who tested positive for the global pandemic after having 22 interactions with infected prisoners during an eight-hour shift — accounting for a total of 17 minutes of contact.

The prison employee had several brief interactions with six inmates on July 28 while their coronavirus test results were pending — and all tested positive the following day.

This was also despite the fact that the employee wore a mask, a gown, and eye protection during the interactions, the report said.

“This article adds to the scientific knowledge of the risk to contacts of those with COVID-19 and highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmissions,” the CDC said in a statement.

“While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increased the individual protection for everyone,” the statement said. “When more people wear masks, more people are protected.”

The new definition of “close contact” is an important change in the fight to curb the virus, Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Washington Post.

“It’s easy to accumulate 15 minutes in small increments when you spend all day together — a few minutes at the water cooler, a few minutes in the elevator, and so on,” she said. “I expect this will result in many more people being identified as close contacts.”

As for Wednesday, the virus had infected a total of 8.3 million Americans and killed more than 221,000, according to Johns Hopkins.

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