In early June 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued an order revising the definition of “close contact.” Under the CDPH order, close contact was defined as “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 created confusion because “same indoor airspace” could be quite broad and is certainly much broader than the 6 feet-15 minutes-24 hour definition the entire nation had been using.  Compounding the problem was Cal/OSHA’s deference to the CDPH definition of “close contact” in its ETS, which California employers are required to follow.

CDPH had provided some clarification in guidance issued on June 20, 2022, stating that when entities are responding to potential exposure they may prioritize the response by:

  • Identifying close contacts who may be considered “high-risk 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.
  • Determining any transient exposures totaling <15 minutes, such as passing in a hallway. Those with transient exposures would not meet the definition of close contact.

On July 18, 2022, Cal/OSHA updated its FAQ for the ETS to address the close contact determination as it relates to the ETS. Cal/OSHA states that a shared indoor airspace may be analyzed in several ways as follows:

  • 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 are not 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. In this situation, Cal/OSHA states that “employers must 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.”
  • Cal/OSHA states in its guidance that “proximity and length of exposure are key to this determination.”

If you have questions about the Cal/OSHA emergency temporary standards or related workplace safety issues, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.