Scientific studies show how viruses can spread in the air while singing
A preliminary release of results from scientific studies show that singing and theatrical speaking can widely spread droplets which may contain viruses — and that masking, limited contact time, good ventilation, and air filtration are essential elements in reducing risk.
Studies underwritten by a large alliance of music, education, and arts organizations (including the Barbershop Harmony Society), focus on “on the distribution of respiratory aerosols that are released while playing wind and brass instruments, singing, acting, speaking, dancing, and during a simulated aerobic activity.”
None of these preliminary findings should be construed as a statement that singing together in a group is considered “safe” yet; but it is important to keep an eye on measurable science as a guide to making safe choices.
Like so many things surrounding the pandemic, this is frustrating. Nothing would be nicer than a simple prescription of “do this and you’ll be safe.” That just doesn’t exist. The guidelines offered by these studies can help education systems and performing arts groups such as barerbshop choruses and quartets attempt to reduce risk. Until the methods are in practice in multiple locations, their effectiveness remains unknown. As K-12 schools, colleges, and universities return to the classroom this fall, it may prove that these best hopes are still insufficient.
Performing arts aerosol study
Please visit the main study website for full information, including an ever-growing list of Frequently Asked Questions.. These preliminary results, which have not been peer reviewed, are to be used strictly for general consideration and will be updated as new information becomes available. The study’s final results are expected in late November/early December.
Watch the full video presentation
The shortest summary: be smart, be distant, be masked and be brief.
Physical distancing and masking are vital!
The general instructions widely distributed for months pertain to singing, too. Some sources feel that 6 feet is barely enough distance, and recommend 10-12 feet.
Wear a mask!
Both direct observation of aerosol behavior while singing, and computer airflow modeling show that wearing a mask makes a tremendous difference.
A mask that continually slips off your nose is insufficient; a properly fitted mask will leave an impression on the face when removed.
Indoors means short times with frequent air changes
Unsurprisingly, lower concentration of aerosol particles is easier to achieve when the air is changed frequently. The University of Colorado Boulder has developed a risk assessment tool that vividly demonstrates the likelihood of spreading infection in a variety of settings. Save your own Google Sheets copy and plug in the numbers at bit.ly/aerosol-transmission-estimator .
Although many of the variables might not be readily obtained for your own rehearsal space (who knows the air handling and frequency of air changes in their hall?), even some rough estimates yield some sobering results.
Limited contact time reduces risk
Once together, who wants to stop? No one! Again, the science points to minimizing contact time, to minimize exposure loads. The longer people share the same air, the higher the risk.
Additional resources from BHS
Informed by these findings, the Society has updated its COVID-19 Interim Guidance For BHS Ensembles And Singing Communities.
First, please understand that nothing is risk free. Circumstances and conditions vary by location, so be sure to follow any and all guidelines set forth by local, regional, state/provincial, and/or national governing agencies. Also bear in mind that most guidelines are not geared towards singers. Physical distancing of 6 feet should be maintained at a minimum, and increased whenever possible. Always exercise an abundance of caution. We are not suggesting that all ensembles should be rehearsing at this time. If you decide on your own to get together, develop a detailed plan of action and use your best judgement.
General Guidance for All Singing Communities
- Evaluate the Risks - Many factors will affect your ensemble’s decision to rehearse, so educate yourself with science and facts before you decide to get together. Some of the risks include: age, health status, underlying medical conditions, exposure to other individuals, local infection rates, and more.
- Be Flexible - Depending on your situation, it may not be possible to gather for rehearsal immediately. If you do decide to get together, develop an action plan for your group and stick to it. As more details are learned about COVID-19, your action plan may change.
- Be Responsible - If you feel sick, stay home. If anyone in your immediate family is at higher risk, be overly cautious. If there’s a chance you’ve been in close contact with someone who might be infected, self-isolate and monitor your own health closely.
- Screen Singers - Consider screening participants for symptoms and performing no-touch temperature checks before gathering together.
- Maintain Social Distance - Physical distancing of 6 feet or more is recommended.
- Wear Masks - Singing may be more difficult, but a properly fitted mask will decrease the risk of droplet and aerosol spread. Singing with a mask produces less aerosols than sitting and breathing without a mask.
- Sing Outdoors - Continue enhanced physical distancing, stand in a straight line, and keep the wind at your back. A canopy tent with fully open sides can be used to protect singers from the elements.
- Shorten Rehearsals - Singing together for a shorter amount of time will reduce the possibility of exposure. 30 minutes of singing followed by a 5-minute break to allow aerosols to disperse is a good rule of thumb.
- Cleanliness - Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often and wash your hands regularly. Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol may be used if soap and water are not available. Don’t share sheet music, folders, water bottles, pencils, or other personal items commonly associated with rehearsals.
- Learning Tracks - If in-person rehearsal is simply not possible, you can use learning tracks to introduce new music or polish existing repertoire while keeping singers engaged.
- Virtual Rehearsal - Consider hosting virtual rehearsals and regular meetings to stay connected with your ensemble.
- Virtual Performance - Consider creating and sharing a virtual performance of your ensemble.
Singing indoors is not recommended - "Singing in a room for an extended period of time, in close contact with lots of people and no ventilation - that's a recipe for disaster." says Dr Shelly Miller. The transmission risk for singers in an enclosed space is extremely high when exposed to an infected individual.
As we prepare to gather indoors in the future, the science is guiding the singing community to:
- Wear properly fitted masks while singing
- Maximize social distance
- Adhere to 30-minute rehearsal times in one room
- After 30 minutes of gathering in a room, everyone should leave the room to allow for three full air exchanges. Talk to your building or facilities manager to obtain accurate HVAC information on air changes per hour (ACPH in your rehearsal room).
- for more information about indoor air filtration and HVAC systems, please visit www.ashrae.org/technical-resources/resources