Coronavirus: singing is no riskier than speaking, new study suggests

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Singing is no more risky than speaking about the spread of the coronavirus, new research shows.

Since disease swept the world, one of the industries most affected by closures and lockdown rules has been the performing arts.

Live music was largely canceled for many months after singing was identified as a potential “higher risk activity” for spreading the virus.

The research project was supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and was carried out by a team of researchers from Imperial College London, University of Bristol and Royal Brompton Hospital.

The results, which are not yet peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, reveal that singing is no more likely to spread aerosols and droplets – which can spread the virus – than to speak at a similar volume. .

The tests were performed in an orthopedic operating theater – a “zero aerosol background” environment – which allowed the research team to correctly quantify aerosols and droplets without confusing them with a large number of ambient particles in the body. ‘environment.

The study, which is the first of its kind, measured the amounts of aerosols and droplets (up to 20 µm in diameter) generated by a large group of 25 professional artists performing a range of exercises including breathing, breathing, speaking, coughing and singing.

The experiments included the same individuals singing and saying the words “Happy Birthday” between the decibel (dB) ranges of 50 to 60, 70 to 80, and 90 to 100 dB.

The researchers found that there was a sharp increase in the mass of the aerosols with an increase in the volume of song and speech, increasing by a factor of 20-30. However, singing does not produce much more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume.

They also found that there were no significant differences in aerosol production between genders or between different genres (choir, musical theater, opera, choir, jazz, gospel, rock and pop).

The researchers said music organizations might consider treating speech and singing alike, paying more attention to the volume at which vocalization occurs, the number of participants, the type of room in which the activity is performed. takes place and the duration of the rehearsal and the period during which the performers vocalize.

They said the research could help enable live musical performances and keep artists and audiences safe during the pandemic.

Jonathan Reid, director of the ESPRC Center for Doctoral Education in Aerosol Science and Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Bristol School of Chemistry and corresponding author of the article, said: “The study showed the transmission of viruses in small aerosols particles generated when someone sings or speaks are also possible, with both activities generating similar numbers of particles.

“Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for the recommendations of Covid-19 for arts venues to function safely for artists and the public by ensuring spaces are properly ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I know that singing is an important passion and hobby for many people who I am sure will join me in welcoming the conclusions of this important study.

“We have worked closely with medical experts throughout this crisis to develop our understanding of Covid-19, and we have now updated our advice in light of these findings so people can start playing together again. safely.”

Declan Costello, consulting ear, nose and throat surgeon specializing in voice disorders at Wexham Park Hospital, and corresponding author on the paper, added: “This research will provide useful information to artists, locations. and arts organizations on how they can reintroduce singing performances. . ”

The research paper Comparison of respirable aerosol concentrations and particle size distributions generated by singing, speaking and breathing, is available on ChemRxiv.

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