Cal/OSHA updated its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) FAQ page July 18 to address the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) revised definition of the term “close contact.”
The CDPH updated the definition in early June, stating that close contact was “someone sharing the same indoor airspace (e.g., home, clinic waiting room, airplane, etc.) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.”
This caused some confusion as “same indoor airspace” is much broader than the 6 feet-15 minutes-24 hour definition that was in use across the U.S., according to law firm Jackson Lewis.
Since the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS deferred to the CDPH definition of close contact, the agency has since updated its FAQ webpage to help clarify the new definition.
Several ways to analyze shared indoor spaces
Cal/OSHA states that a shared indoor airspace can be analyzed in several ways, including:
- smaller spaces contained within a large indoor space that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls are not part of the same indoor airspace as the large indoor space (e.g., suites, waiting areas, bathrooms or break areas)
- larger indoor settings that aren’t divided into smaller spaces that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls may constitute a shared indoor airspace (e.g., open-floor plan offices, warehouses, or retail stores) and employers will need to “evaluate whether employees shared the same indoor airspace on a case-by-case basis, considering the duration and proximity of the contact, regardless of the specific task of the employees,” and
- proximity and length of exposure are key to the determination.
How to prioritize a response
CDPH also provided some clarification, stating that when responding to potential exposure employers may prioritize the response by:
- identifying “high risk” close contacts based on their proximity to the case in the setting, the duration or intensity of their exposure, and/or their greater risk of severe illness or death from an exposure
- determining any smaller spaces within the larger indoor setting for the purposes of assessing potential exposure, and
- determining any transient exposures totaling less than 15 minutes, such as passing in a hallway.
Those with transient exposures would not meet the definition of close contact, according to CDPH.