COVID-19 Resources

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Key Points

October 23, 2020

Recommendations for Industry

Close Contacts Are Redefined – But Shades of Gray Remain

In updated guidance on COVID-19, CDC has changed its definition of close contacts to include those “ within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period” starting 2 days before illness onset or, if asymptomatic, a test that results in a positive.” This means that all the individual exposures within a 24-hour period should be “added together” (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes).  This updated guidance is based, in part, on a recent CDC-study looking at transmission to a prison guard in a Vermont correctional facility. 


The operative word here is “cumulative,” (e.g., a worker had three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). But it also must be remembered that this is not based on a clear, exact science of time and distance – there is no bubble around 6 feet or 15 minutes. A person could be infected in 10 seconds when 2 feet away if an infected person coughs on or shouts at them or a fan is blowing air toward them; 10 minutes could be plenty of time for an infection to spread regardless of distance; two hours at 7 feet does make one “safe”; and there can be significant differential if an infected person is facing toward or away from others. That said, one needn’t start adding up “2-second exposures” – there must be a balance. 


Unfortunately, it is just not a black and white situation – there are manyshades of gray. Particularly when one reads the last lines of CDC’s Close Contact definition: “Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.”


The challenge is that there are not exact limits that are protective; it is a curve of risk that has many variables. CDC is trying to create a guidance that will reduce risk but not make risk go away. 


TAG has been saying all along to look at exposure in a cumulative way, because the greater the exposure (time and distance) the more likely it is that COVID-19 will be transmitted. It is a complex equation that is trying to be definitive, and it’s just not possible. But, if you were to take one thing away from all this, it would be that the closer and longer one is to an infected person the higher the risk – with or without masks. (But remember all the shades of gray!)

Outbreak Updates

As of October 23, 2020 (13:52 ET), there are over > 41,982,000 cases (>1,140,000 deaths) worldwide.

Due to the increasing number of cases in the United States, TAG will move from reporting counts per country to focus on the United States, please see here for the data. For further information regarding worldwide numbers, please refer to John Hopkin University’s aggregate map.

Keep up to date with COVID-19:

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