Pedestrians wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Wall Street in New York City on Thursday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday altered the definition of what constitutes "close contact" to a person infected with COVID-19.
The CDC updated the guidance to define close contact as being "within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more" over a 24-hour period. The agency previously defined close contact as being within 6 feet of a confirmed case for 15 consecutive minutes.
Wednesday's update follows a report by the CDC stating that Vermont health officials discovered that a 20-year-old male correctional facility employee contracted the coronavirus after 22 brief interactions over 17 minutes with six individuals who later tested positive for COVID-19.
"Available data suggests that at least one of the asymptomatic [incarcerated or detained persons] transmitted SARS-CoV-2 during these brief encounters," the report stated.
The report said the correctional officer wore a microfiber cloth mask at all times but the people he interacted with did not wear masks "during several encounters in a cell doorway or in the recreation room."
The correctional officer also wore gloves, a gown and goggles.
"The article adds to the scientific knowledge of the risk to contacts of those with COVID-19 and highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmission," the CDC said.
In a press conference Wednesday, Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, said the United States is "unfortunately seeing a distressing trend, with cases increasing in nearly 75% of the country."
He noted that wearing a mask takes on increased importance this fall and winter as Americans will spend more time indoors, raising the risk of transmission.
The United States reported 60,300 new COVID-19 cases nationwide on Wednesday for a total of more than 8.28 million cases and about 221,100 deaths nationwide, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.