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Oct 28

What You Need to Know about 'Close Contact' to COVID-19

Posted on October 28, 2020 at 1:59 PM by Sarah OConnell

The term “close contact” has become a buzz word in daily life. What you may not know is that the term carries an important definition to public health officials. Understanding close contact in the context of COVID-19 is crucial to the ongoing assessment and management of this disease and ultimately helps orient our collective actions.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, scientists are learning more and more about the virus that causes COVID-19. As a result, the approach to slowing the spread of the disease and the strategies used to reduce the impact of the pandemic on the community may also evolve. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the definition of what it means to have close contact with another person that has or may have COVID-19. 

Why are we talking about this now? 

It is important that everyone understands the updated definition of close contact so that they can take steps to protect themselves. Loudoun County continues to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases, as are many other parts of the country. There is also growing evidence of transmission of COVID-19 from infected people without symptoms; therefore, you may learn that you had close contact with someone who seemed well when you were with them but later tested positive for COVID-19. 

What is close contact?

According to the CDC, close contact to coronavirus disease 2019 is defined 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 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.” Public health definitions can seem complicated but they are based on science. The most significant update is that the CDC now considers contact with someone who has COVID-19 for smaller bits of time that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period as a risk for catching the virus.

What should I do if I believe I have had close contact?

If you believe you have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or may have been exposed to someone who has COIVD-19, regardless of whether the contact was wearing a mask or respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE), the CDC recommends: 
  • Stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.
  • Monitor for symptoms: Check temperature twice a day. Watch for fever, cough, or shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Avoid contact with people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
  • Contact your doctor for additional guidance. 
What if I’m just not sure if I have had any close contact?

COVID-19 is still here, so everyone should continue to practice the important disease prevention strategies that you’ve been hearing about to keep themselves, their families and our community safe. These steps include:
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Wash your hands often; use soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering when around others.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes when not wearing a face covering.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces routinely. 
  • Monitor your health daily: watch for fever, cough, or shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19. Check your temperature if symptoms develop.
  • Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
Each one of us has a role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our individual actions add up to a safer community. Because the virus spreads most commonly from person to person, avoiding close contact with people outside your household is one of the most important steps we can take. Remember, close contact is coming within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. 

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Contact Us
Residents with questions about COVID-19 may contact the Loudoun County Health Department:
  • Information Line: 703-737-8300
  • Email 
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