In findings that could help choirs return to churches, a study has found that singing does not produce substantially more airborne particles than speaking at a similar volume.
A project led by scientists at the University of Bristol looked at 25 singers of different genres, genders and ethnicities. The scientists asked them to sing and speak Happy Birthday at different volumes and pitches and measured the number of droplets and aerosols produced.
The study found that the volume of the voice had the largest impact on how many aerosols were produced, but there was not a substantial difference between speaking and singing at the same volume.
Ventilation could also have an effect, as the larger the venue the more ventilation there could be to disperse the aerosols.
Jonathan Reid, professor of physical chemistry at the University of Bristol, said: “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.”
Dr Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute added: “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.”
However, Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, cautioned choirs against getting their hopes up.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
The findings come as members of the Thomistic Institute wrote that social distancing measures in US churches were working and that no outbreaks of coronavirus have been linked to Catholic church attendance.
Writing for Real Clear Science, the authors cited five known examples of infected individuals who attended Masses but did not infect other attendees. This included a wedding with 200 guests where one attendee tested positive two days later. Despite the fact that this person was almost certainly infectious, no one else at the wedding developed the disease.
The authors attribute this success to mask-wearing, maintaining six feet of distance between household groups, hand washing and good ventilation.
In late July, the Thomistic Institute released updated guidelines for the celebration of Mass which allowed for Communion on the tongue. The authors said: “No evidence has emerged to suggest that distribution of Holy Communion in accordance with TI Guidelines has led to COVID transmission.”
“To date, the evidence does not suggest that Church attendance – following the current guidelines – is any more risky than shopping for groceries. And the spiritual good for believers in coming to Church is immeasurably important for their well-being,” the authors added.