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expert reaction to a preprint from the PERFORM project looking at the COVID-19 risk associated with singing

A preprint, an unpublished non peer-reviewed, looked at the aerosol distribution associated with different forms of speech and singing. 

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing

 

Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor in Respiratory Sciences, University of Leicester, said:

“This is a useful and timely study – with results similar to this much older study from 1968 on tuberculosis showing that singing produces a similar particle size/number distribution as talking. But it is indeed the volume of singing – especially in large groups – that is important with more particles produced as the singing gets louder – and this is the point.

“Singers sing to be heard by an audience and this is the main risk. I also sang in choirs (as a top tenor) and busked on the streets in a barbershop group and even at the Eisteddfod of Wales. Don’t get me wrong – I know it is a fantastic, sociable, therapeutic activity. But the risks should not be overly underestimated or played down because of this – we don’t want choir members getting infected and potentially dying from COVID-19 whilst doing what they love.

“Also, the study was performed on individual singers one at a time – when the particle profile was found to be similar to talking. Again, this is not necessarily the main problem. The risk is amplified when a group of singers are singing together, e.g. singing to an audience, whether in churches or concert halls or theatres. This may also affect the airflow dynamics of that air volume which may be more than the individual contributions from each singer via some complex resonant entrainment airflow dynamics that may propel these aerosols further. It is not comparable to the quiet breathing of the audience whose breathing will not be synchronised in a coordinated manner – like the exhalations of the choir – or talking to each other on a one-to-one basis.

“So it is a nice study but not exactly representative of the real whole choir dynamic which really needs further study to truly assess the risk of such large volume synchronised singing vocalisations/exhalations.”

 

Dr Rupert Beale, Group Leader, Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory, Francis Crick Institute, said:

Good news for singers and choirs: this important research suggests there is no specific excess risk of transmission due to singing. Loud speech and singing both carry excess risk however. Performers will need to take careful note of this to reduce the risk of transmission. This research supports the possibility of safe performance as long as there’s appropriate social distancing and ventilation.”

 

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

 

None received.

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