This video shows how easily COVID-19 can spread when people sing together


Production on the reality show The Masked Singer was halted last month after several crew members were infected with COVID-19.This is one of many examples of COVID-19 transmission associated with singing around the world since March, which has prompted some jurisdictions to ban group singing altogether.

In New South Wales, for example, choral singing is prohibited and there are no singing rules at weddings and nightclubs.

Now our new study, which included filming the droplets and aerosols emitted when someone sings, shows just how much of a risk singing can be for infection. It is especially if many people sing together, in a poorly ventilated room.

What we did and what we found

We took a high speed video of a person singing a major scale, like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do (see below, no audio). We then followed the emissions of droplets and aerosols.

We have found that some notes, such as “do” and “fa”, generate more aerosols than others. We also found that the direction of the emissions changed with different consonants.

Infection control guidelines assume that respiratory droplets settle quickly within one to two meters of the person emitting them.

However, most of the droplets we observed did not appear to settle quickly and tended to follow the flow of ambient air.

Therefore, without adequate ventilation, these droplets can persist in aerosol clouds.

These observations may partly explain the higher infection rates of COVID-19 during group singing, even when people sing well.

Our results are based on a person’s song, and individuals can aerosolize differently. However, our results apply to singing in all groups, such as churches, schools, and social gatherings, all of which are vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Also read: NSW takes a break from school choirs, but we can’t stop the music forever

What about the choirs?

We have known since March about the potential of group singing to transmit SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In this well-documented American example, 87% of the 61 people who attended a 2.5-hour choir practice were infected, with two deaths. One singer had mild symptoms during rehearsal.

Today, our research adds to the growing body of research on the risk of singing transmission and the role that aerosols could play.

We know that social distancing is effective in reducing the risk of spreading during normal social interactions. However, singing in groups and in closed, poorly ventilated environments can generate more aerosol than speaking.

When we sing, we vocalize louder and often hold the notes longer. This, along with many singers close together in confined spaces for an hour or more, creates conditions that can increase the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

When the researchers analyzed the results of the American choir example, they estimated that the risk of infection could have been halved with shorter choir practice.

Read also :
Is the airborne route a major source of coronavirus transmission?

We tend to think of coughing or sneezing as the main source of aerosol production. But even breathing generates aerosols, albeit at lower concentrations.

In fact, we breathe and talk a lot more than we cough or sneeze. Thus, the cumulative exposure to aerosols for a group of people singing and talking, without coughing or sneezing, in a closed environment may be higher than for a single cough.

How can we sing together, safely?

We saw online choirs as a safe alternative to traditional choirs.

Singing from your couch is a safe way to continue singing in a group.

Other options for safer group singing now and in the future include:

  • singing outdoors or in a well-ventilated room with large windows open as this is likely to dissipate aerosols and further reduce the risk
  • physical distancing at least two meters while singing
  • short performances to minimize exposure

  • buzzing rather than singing during rehearsals, because we show that consonants (like “do”) generate the most aerosols

  • sing softly (and using amplifiers) as this is likely to emit less aerosols

  • using rapid test kits, if available, which would allow singers to be screened before performing

  • assess risk factors for individual singers based on age, chronic disease and other risk factors for COVID-19. It is more important that people at high risk of complications from COVID-19 avoid group singing while there is community transmission.

Some people recommend wearing face shields while singing in a group. But these allow you to breathe aerosols through the space below, which can be even more likely with strong inhalations while singing.

No single measure will suffice to mitigate the risk. We need several metrics used together – physical distance, shorter performances, open windows, open-air rooms, softer vocals, and risk-based screening – to enable safer group singing.


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