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Singing “no riskier than talking” says Covid study

The first-of-its-kind research project looks at the amounts of aerosols and droplets generated by a large group of professional performers

By IQ on 21 Aug 2020

The study could have implications for live indoor performances, which recently resumed in England

The study could have implications for live indoor performances, which recently resumed in England


Singing is “no riskier than talking,” for the spread of coronavirus, according to a new study, supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

However, the researchers, from the University of Bristol, says the risk of transmission may depend on how loud the singing is.

The study found that there is a steep rise in aerosol mass with an increase in the loudness of the singing and speaking, but singing does not produce much more more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume.

There is emerging evidence that coronavirus can be spread through aerosols, tiny particles which are exhaled from the body and float in the air, as well as in droplets which fall onto surfaces and are then touched.

Live musical performances have been cancelled for many months because singing was identified as a potential “higher risk” activity, however, this study could have implications for live indoor performances, which resumed in England this week.

Jonathan Reid, director of ESPRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Aerosol Science and professor of physical chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, and a corresponding author on the paper, says: “The study has shown the transmission of viruses in small aerosol particles generated when someone sings or speaks are equally possible with both activities generating similar numbers of particles.

“Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for Covid-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely for both the performers and audience by ensuring that spaces are appropriately ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.”

“Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for Covid-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says: “Singing and playing music are passions for many people who will welcome the findings of this important study, which shows that there are no heightened risks associated with these activities. This means people can get back to performing, another important step showing we are Here for Culture through Covid.

“We have worked closely with medical experts throughout this crisis to develop our understanding of the virus, and our guidance is updated in light of these findings today.”

This is the first study to look at the amounts of aerosols and droplets generated by a large group of 25 professional performers completing a range of exercises including breathing, speaking, coughing, and singing.

There were no significant differences in aerosol production between genders or among different genres (choral, musical theatre, opera, choral, jazz, gospel, rock and pop).

The experiments were carried out in an environment of “zero aerosol background”, which allowed the team to unambiguously identify the aerosols produced from specific vocalisations.

The study is yet to be peer-reviewed.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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