On June 8, 2022, the California Department of Public Heath (CDPH) issued an order updating definitions for “close contact” and “infectious period” as they relate to the CDPH isolation and quarantine requirements. Employers should be aware of these changes as they affect employer’s obligations under the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS).
As previously reported, the COVID-19 ETS was revised for a third time, effective May 6, 2022. Among other things, the latest ETS revisions specified that if the CDPH defined “close contact” or “infectious period” through a regulation or order, the CDPH definitions would apply instead of the definitions contained in the ETS.
Under the new CDPH order, a “close contact” is defined as someone sharing the “same indoor airspace (e.g., home, clinic waiting room, airplane, etc.) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (for example, three individual 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes) during an infected person’s infectious period.”
The CDPH defines “infectious period” as:
- For symptomatic infected persons, two days before the infected person had any symptoms through Day 10 after symptoms first appeared (or through Days 5-10 if testing negative on Day 5 or later), and 24 hours have passed with no fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications, and symptoms have improved, OR
- For asymptomatic infected persons, two days before the positive specimen collection date through Day 10 after positive specimen collection date (or through Days 5-10 if testing negative on Day 5 or later) after specimen collection date for their first positive COVID-19 test.
Per the latest changes to the ETS, both CDPH definitions appear to replace existing ETS definitions.
The new definition of infectious period may potentially shorten infectious periods depending on test results. However, the definition of close contact is more expansive than before, replacing the well-known six-foot rule with a reference to sharing the “same indoor airspace.” The CDPH’s broader definition of close contact will require employers to adjust their policies and procedures related to close contacts, which will likely impact COVID-19 case investigation, close contact determination, exposure notifications and testing obligations.
Additionally, while the latest ETS revisions removed the general requirement to exclude close contacts from the workplace, the ETS still requires close contacts who do not test during a minor COVID-19 outbreak to be excluded. And there’s always the possibility that the CDPH will change their quarantine and isolation guidance in the future to require exclusion of close contacts.
While employers are adjusting their COVID-19 Prevention Programs for these new definitions, it’s a good opportunity to review the entire program and ensure it aligns with the third revised ETS that went into effect in May, particularly as COVID-19 cases seem to be increasing, and employers may encounter more cases in the workplace. In reviewing their COVID-19 Prevention Program, employers should look at Cal/OSHA’s ETS resources, including Cal/OSHA’s model prevention program, which was updated after the third revised ETS took effect.
Employers should also monitor Cal/OSHA’s ETS FAQs for updates related to the new definitions and specifically how Cal/OSHA will construe the new close contact terminology “same indoor airspace.”