Thursday, October 22, 2020

Coronavirus Update 10-22-2020: New CDC guidance will result in A LOT more employee absences

Yesterday, the CDC made a key update to its COVID-19 guidance. It made a significant change to the definition of "close contact."

No longer does one qualify as a "close contact" by being within 6 feet of someone for 15 continuous minutes or more. 

The CDC now defines "close contact" as:
Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (individual exposures added together 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."
Factors to consider in determining whether one is a "close contact" include:
  • Proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk);
  • The duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk);
  • Whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding);
  • If the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting); and
  • Other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors).
Most notably, under separate CDC guidance, this determination is made regardless of whether anyone was wearing a mask or other facial covering.

This change matters a lot. COVID-19 quarantine rules depend on whether one has been in close contact with someone who tested positive. The liberalization of this definition (which appears to have been based on anecdotal evidence of at least one infection) will result in more people meeting the definition of "close contact" and therefore having to quarantine for 14 days after an exposure to someone who tested positive.

This doesn't just matter to exposures in your workplace. It also matters to employees' activities out side of work, and to their children who are exposed at school. If the child has to quarantine for 14 days, guess who might need to be home with their quarantining child?

Make no mistake, this will create an attendance mess for employers, especially as COVID-19 numbers continue to briskly rise. Now is the time to double-down on the enforcement of physical distancing rules and measures at work. Six feet must mean six feet at all times
  • Floors should be marked so that employees understand what six feet looks like. 
  • Shifts should be staggered to allow for greater separation of employees, if needed.
  • Start- and end-times should be shifted to avoid bunching at time clocks.
  • Lunch and break rooms should be set up to avoid crowding and allow for distancing. 
  • Bathrooms and elevators should have strict (and low) occupancy limits. 
You can't control with whom an employee or a family member comes in close contact outside of work, but you certainly can enforce measures at work to limit the possibility of close contact occurring there. Otherwise, you risk one positive COVID-19 case wiping out your business for two straight weeks.

* Photo by Liza Pooor on Unsplash