This Everyday Activity Spreads COVID as Much as Singing, Study Says
New research reveals that belting out a tune is no more dangerous than this everyday behavior.
Public health officials have warned that singing is a high-risk activity for spreading COVID-19 since early on in the coronavirus pandemic. And while not being able to belt out your favorite song may not be the activity you miss the most about normal life, there's now evidence that early warnings against serenading may have been somewhat overestimated. According to a new U.K. study, it appears that singing actually spreads COVID just as much as talking does, the BBC reports. Instead, it's the volume at which you sing or speak that can send more aerosols flying into the air, creating a greater risk of spreading coronavirus.
For the study, which was funded by Public Health England and has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers spoke and sang "Happy Birthday" at different pitches and volumes in a sterile operating room to avoid contamination of outside particles. They found that normal speech generates the same level of aerosol particles as singing a song at a normal volume does. But shouting and singing loudly generated up to 30 times the amount of particles released.
There was also not a significant difference in the number of aerosol particles produced by singing songs in different genres, like choral, musical theatre, opera, jazz, gospel rock, and pop.
The findings have potentially positive implications for choirs, churches, and concert halls that have been told to put singing on hold ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on a Washington choir in May. The study detailed the spread of COVID-19 among 52 members of a 61 person choir during a 2.5 hour vocal practice. The CDC ultimately concluded that "SARS-CoV-2 might be highly transmissible in certain settings, including group singing events."
In fact, it's been believed that singing poses such a risk that on July 1, the California Department of Public Health temporarily put a ban on singing and chanting in all houses of worship.
"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," study author Jonathan Reid, PhD, professor of physical chemistry at the University of Bristol, said in a statement.
But some experts pointed to the likelihood of large groups still creating a potential risk for spreading the virus. Julian Tang, PhD, honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, told the BBC that the study is "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 vocalisations [and] exhalations."
Tang warned: "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." And for more on how to avoid catching coronavirus, check out Dr. Fauci's Top 10 Tips to Keep You Safe From COVID-19.