COVID-19 Close Contact Definition Changed

On October 13, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued an order updating the definition for “close contact” as it relates to the CDPH isolation and quarantine requirements for individuals infected or exposed to COVID-19. Employers should be aware of these changes as they affect their obligations under the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS).

As previously reported, the CDPH first changed the definition of “close contact” through a June order, departing from the six-foot close-contact rule and, instead, defining close contact based on individuals sharing the “same indoor airspace.” This June standard raised questions from employers with larger facilities such as grocery stores, warehouses and the like.

The CDPH’s latest definition of “close contact” potentially addresses some of those concerns — workplaces are separated by their size, and different standards of “close contact” based on the size of the space apply. Under the new order, “close contact” means the following:

  • In indoor spaces that are 400,000 or fewer cubic feet per floor (such as home, clinic waiting room, airplane etc.), a “close contact” is defined as sharing the same indoor airspace for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (for example, three separate 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes) during an infected person’s (confirmed by COVID-19 test or clinical diagnosis) infectious period.
  • In large indoor spaces that are greater than 400,000 cubic feet per floor (such as open-floor-plan offices, warehouses, large retail stores, manufacturing or food processing facilities), a “close contact” is defined as being within six feet of the infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the infected person’s infectious period.

Spaces that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls (e.g., offices, suites, rooms, waiting areas, bathrooms, or break or eating areas that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls) must be considered distinct indoor airspaces.

As with the last order, this new definition applies to the COVID-19 ETS. Cal/OSHA noted the new definition on its ETS FAQ page, stating the same definitions noted above.  

Employers should review the new definition and guidance to determine if they need to change their process for identifying close contacts, which potentially influences testing, masking and outbreak procedures under the ETS.

James W. Ward, Employment Law Subject Matter Expert/Legal Writer and Editor

CalChamber members can use the COVID-19 Workplace Exposure Notification Checklists on HRCalifornia. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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