The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a new guidance that covers people who come into close contact with an infected individual. The change was a result of an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States, pointing out yet again the importance of wearing masks with the fall and winter season fast approaching.

Previously, the CDC defined “close contact” as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of someone who has been confirmed to have the coronavirus. The updated definition of being in “close contact” will now be deemed as someone who was within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

The new definition of “close contact” by the CDC comes after there was unsettling new evidence linked to a prison employee who had contracted the disease. The unnamed individual worked an eight-hour shift and had 22 interactions with individuals who later turned out to be positive for the virus. It appears that one of the asymptomatic detainees transmitted the virus in these brief encounters.

Hence, the CDC has once again singled out the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmission and safeguard themselves. Some people may not show symptoms but potentially passing it on is possible.

“While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual protection for everyone. When more people wear masks, more people are protected,” the CDC said in a statement.

The change in definition will have a huge impact on schools, workplaces and other group settings since it will mean new protocols for contact tracing. But according to Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the updated guidance is an important one.

“It’s easy to accumulate 15 minutes in small increments when you spend all day together — a few minutes at the water cooler, a few minutes in the elevator, and so on,” Rivers said. “I expect this will result in many more people being identified as close contacts.”

However, Rivers also said that it remains unclear if the prison employee got infected through the interactions. There is a possibility that it may have been airborne or contracted through surface transmission.

Coronavirus Protection Woman in protective gears to prevent coronavirus infection. Photo by: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay