Published Aug 21, 2020Proving we still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, a new U.K. study has found that singing may not spread the virus more easily than speaking — a finding that could have a major impact on the reopening of music venues.
The study comes from as part of project called Perform, the BBC reports, and it found British researchers looking at the amount of aerosols and droplets generated by performers. While the results have yet to be peer reviewed, they do appear promising when it comes to the decisions health officials must make about safely reopening indoor venues.
For the unfamiliar, aerosols are tiny particles that are exhaled from the body and then float in the air. Scientific evidence has shown that coronavirus can be spread through these particles, in addition to droplets expelled by the mouth. And so far, many health officials have stated that they believe performers who sing expel more of these virus-spreading particles into the air than people simply talking.
According to the study, however, researchers found there was not a substantial difference in the spread of aerosols between talking and singing when done at a similar noise level. What did make a difference, though, was the volume of the voice, where singing or shouting at the loudest level possible could generate 30 times more aerosol.
In other words, it's not the simple act of singing that spreads more aerosols but the volume at which you do it. Of course, this is definitely not going to be good news for metal bands.
As the BBC explains, the study led by scientists at the University of Bristol involved 25 professional performers of different genders, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, such as musical theatre, opera, gospel, jazz and pop (though unfortunately not metal).
Researchers had them all complete a range of exercises, from singing to speaking "Happy Birthday" at different pitches and volumes. This was done in an operating theatre where no other aerosols were present.
In addition to the findings about the impact of volume, researchers said ventilation had a huge impact on how aerosols build up. This means that the larger the venue and the better the ventilation, the better it is when it comes to reducing the risk of COVID-19.
Dr. Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute said: "This important research suggests there is no specific excess risk of transmission due to singing. Loud speech and singing both carry excess risk, however. This research supports the possibility of safe performance as long as there's appropriate social distancing and ventilation."
Jonathan Reid, one of the study's authors, explained: "Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for COVID-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely, for both the performers and audience, by ensuring that spaces are appropriately ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission."
While the results of the study are promising, some researchers say we still must proceed with caution, especially when it comes to groups of people singing.
Dr. Julian Tang, honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said: "The risk is amplified when a group of singers are singing together, eg. singing to an audience, whether in churches or concert halls or theatres. 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 synchronized singing vocalizations/exhalations.
"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."