On Oct. 14, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated the definition of close contact under the Third Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).
This definition had been broadened in June 2022 when “within 6 feet” was changed to sharing the same airspace as a positive case for 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.
That made things difficult for employers, especially those with large, open workspaces, who had to operationalize under the new definition, according to law firm Littler Mendelson.
The updated definition brings about a sort of middle ground between the 6 feet and shared airspace rules by making them both applicable depending on the size of a workplace measured in cubic feet (calculated as square footage multiplied by ceiling height).
Under this hybrid, close contact now means that:
- in indoor spaces 400,000 or fewer cubic feet per floor, 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 during an infected person’s infectious period, and
- in large indoor spaces greater than 400,000 cubic feet per floor, a close contact is defined as being within 6 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.
No guidance from Cal/OSHA
However, areas that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls must be considered distinct indoor airspaces, so compliance still isn’t straightforward.
For example, an employee working in a large open space like a warehouse might fall under the 6-feet rule, but once that employee enters a smaller space, such as an office, then they will fall under the shared airspace rule.
What this boils down to is that it’s no longer just a matter of how close employees are to each other at the worksite, but also where they were within the worksite. Simply asking employees to identify the people they were within 6 feet of won’t be sufficient at large workplaces because employers will need to also know where they were when they interacted.
There’s also the question of how to apply each rule to the same employee within a 24-hour period.
Cal/OSHA has adopted the rule and reiterated the requirements but hasn’t offered any further guidance at this time.
It’s unclear at this time if further clarification will come with the state’s proposed COVID-19 Permanent Standard, which will likely be voted on at the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board Dec. 15, 2022, meeting.