CDC Expands the Definition of Close Contact for COVID-19

October 23, 2020Legal Alerts

On Oct. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new definition for “close contact.” The new definition was expanded to account for the cumulative amount of exposure one might have had with a person infected with COVID-19.

Under the new definition, close contact is defined as being “within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period beginning two days before illness onset.”[1] 

For the purposes of contact tracing, this means individual exposures are added together throughout a 24-hour period. Multiple brief interactions, such as three five-minute interactions (for a total of 15 minutes) with an infected individual would qualify as close contact under this expanded definition.[2] This is compared to the previous definition which limited close contact to exposure within six feet of an infected individual for a continuous 15-minute period or more.

Whether someone has come into close contact with an infected individual is not limited solely to time and space considerations. While closer proximity and longer durations of time increase the chance of exposure, additional factors may indicate close contact. Those factors include whether the infected individual had symptoms or was engaging in activities likely to generate respiratory aerosols, such as coughing, singing, or shouting.[3]

This expanded definition of close contact will likely have an impact on workplace practices, employment concerns, and other effects related to the mitigation of virus spread. For specific questions about CDC guidance, employee matters during COVID-19, state and local COVID-19 requirements, or about managing workplace safety, please contact your Labor and Employment Dinsmore attorney.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Appendix A – Glossary of Key Terms, Oct. 21, 2020,

[2] Id.

[3] Id.