By Nicola Davis & Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian | Sing softly and don’t shout to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spread, new research suggests, offering a ray of hope for musicians who have been restricted from performing in public.
Music makers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with singing, as well as playing of woodwind and brass instruments deemed to be a potential high risk for spreading the disease – a concern fuelled by outbreaks in choirs.
As a result only professional rehearsals and outdoor performances have, until recently, been allowed in England, and even then only with a raft of precautions.
But the research offers hope to performers keen to get back on stage as soon as possible.
“It is not about the vocalisation – whether it’s singing or speaking – it is about the volume,” said Jonathan Reid, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Bristol and a co-author of the research. “Just by singing a little bit more softly you really reduce the risk.”
In a study that has yet to be peer-reviewed, the team report how they asked 25 professional singers to breathe, speak, cough and sing into funnels. They then measured the mass of tiny droplets suspended in the air, known as aerosols, that were produced. The experiments were set up in an orthopaedic operating theatre, a setting chosen for its lack of background aerosols.
While one route by which Covid-19 spreads is via big droplets, largely produced when someone coughs and which fall to the ground within a couple of metres, Reid said aerosols were another possible route, noting such tiny droplets can linger in the air.
The team found the results of their study varied across participants, however at the lowest volume singing and speaking generated a similar mass of aerosols as breathing.
But when the team asked participants to recite Happy Birthday at different volumes, they found the loudest singing and speaking – 90-100dB – produced about 36 and 24 times the mass of aerosols respectively as generated by breathing.
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