Monday, May 11, 2020

Sooooo, maybe not?!

So far the presumption has been that singing is like coughing or sneezing and expels the droplets laced with the corona virus on those around the singer and therefore singing is one of the more effective means of corona virus transmission.  Or may be not?
In March, more than 50 members of a sample of the Berlin Cathedral Choir became infected with the Corona virus. Experts have so far recommended avoiding singing together in rooms - even in church services. An investigation by the Bundeswehr University in Munich now comes to the conclusion that a corona infection when choral singing is "extremely unlikely".

The Bundeswehr University in Munich examined the risk of corona infection when singing together. The researchers came to the conclusion based on fluid mechanics experiments: The university said it was very limited, as announced on Thursday, May 7. Experiments with professional singers have clearly shown that the air is only set in motion in the area of ??half a meter in front of the mouth, regardless of volume and pitch. Virus spread beyond this distance is "extremely unlikely."

The researchers were not surprised by the result. After all, when singing, no large volume of air is expelled suddenly, like when sneezing or coughing. Nevertheless, a safety distance of 1.5 meters in a choir or church is advisable and a staggered placement of the singers is recommended to prevent droplet infection. The room size and good ventilation are also important for safe music operation.

Until now, the risk of contagion with corona viruses when singing together, among other things, was considered to be particularly high according to the Deutsche Stimmklinik. The reason for this was that it mostly takes place in closed rooms and the contagious droplets fly particularly far when singing and penetrate deeper into the lungs. According to this view, singing lessons are not yet permitted at the Baden-W├╝rttemberg Music Schools and church singing is prohibited in some federal states for services.

Regardless of the results of the Bundeswehr University, Nagold's church music director Peter Ammer said the current ban on singing for churchgoers should not become the rule. The Evangelical service lives from the singing of the congregation, which is part of the proclamation, said the Vice President of the Association of Evangelical Church Musicians in Germany (UEM) in an interview with the Evangelical Press Service on May 5. "Actually, without church chanting, the evangelical service is carried to the absurd."

It has recently been allowed to celebrate church services, but community singing is prohibited in Baden-W├╝rttemberg. In other federal states, however, this is permitted with restrictions. Of course, the hygiene regulations would have to be implemented consistently to prevent the virus from spreading, Ammer knows. "And yet it leads to displeasure when federal states are allowed to sing with similar numbers of cases as Bavaria and we are not."

Before Corona, the church musicians saw themselves as systemically important for a worship service - and now they have to state that they are not, and are even considered to be systemic due to their choral work. "That is bitter." In addition, many predict that the chorus landscape will change radically due to the pandemic. Some choirs will break away, others will not be able to maintain their level, the church musician fears.
In the US, meanwhile, on March 6, Adam Burdick, the conductor of the 121 voice Skagit Valley Chorale weighed the concerns about the virus and proceeded with the choir rehearsal that has been blamed for 45 members coming down with the virus and 2 deaths.  The presumption is that singing was the means of transmission. So when a study published March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when the virus was suspended in a mist under laboratory conditions it remained “viable and infectious” for three hours, everyone has rushed to condemn singing as the cause.  In reality researchers did not believe that the virus would remain more than 30 minutes in real-world conditions.  One of the authors of that study, Jamie Lloyd-Smith, a UCLA infectious disease researcher, said it’s possible that the forceful breathing action of singing dispersed viral particles in the church room that were widely inhaled.  “One could imagine that really trying to project your voice would also project more droplets and aerosols,” he said.

Note here. It's possible, he said.  Of course, there was no certain evidence that this was the actual cause of the outbreak but the presumption.  Now perhaps we have some evidence to suggest that singing may contribute but no more than and certainly much less than other means of transmitting the COVID-19 virus.  Of course, it has long been recognized that particles expelled during expiration such as sneezing, coughing, talking, and breathing, can and do serve as vehicles for respiratory pathogen transmission. The relative contribution of each form of expiration in transmitting infectious microorganisms, however, remains unclear.  Yet there are many voices who are not waiting for evidence but already insisting the singing must be prohibited.

My point.  Don't be stupid.  Take reasonable precautions.  Symptomatic people should stay home.  But neither is rushing to judge something guilty either prudent or logical.  We can do this people.  It is not rocket science.  Think it through and before we ditch a much loved part of our Christian tradition we ought to pay attention to things.  By the way, both incidents were early on in this pandemic.  Just so you know, we have continued to sing hymns in worship services of 10 or so and to have a few small vocal ensembles in my parish while maintaining prudent measures. 


OldSouth said...

Thanks for providing a voice of reason.

Priscilla said...

I found your blog when doing a devotional study on the peace of God and looking up what "reasonableness means." I benefited from your 2011 comments on that topic in respect to rejoice. I am a medical doctor(retired) and also a trained singer. Even before I had heard about the Sagit choir you referenced, I had wondered if anything particular about the mechanics of singing(besides just the sitting/standing close together while breathing in unison) might pose an increased risk of easily spreading the virus. But I didn't really dwell on it. I greatly appreciate your desire to return to "safe" singing as soon as possible, but I really don't think you appreciate the very real concerns about how the very mechanics of singing can potentially amplifying the ability to spread the virus. The Sagit choir did not have anyone in the group who was known to be sick. A large percentage of the people got ill, and two died. I'm a soprano, and even at age 59, my training in singing still allows me to "hit those high notes," albeit not as easily and confidently as I did when I was younger. Singing is amazingly complex, and the process does require deep inhalations and then pushing air out at the pressure needed to project the sound. It may still be considered a theory, but it is one that does have good scientific basis--that singing helps "aerosolize" the virus and also fills the air with more viral particles than would just occur with a random cough here or there, or someone just talking. I have joked(rather ruefully) that because I am a high soprano and have the ability to sing loudly and at a high pitch, with pretty great breath control, I'd probably be one of "the best" at propelling viruses around. But it isn't really a joke. I don't consider myself as either an "expert" in singing or in infectious diseases, but with the knowledge and experience that I have in both fields, I think it is a serious mistake to not take concerns about public singing, particularly in the cozy confines of our churches, as not that important. The fact that the Sagit incident happened earlier on makes no difference to the argument. People there said no one appeared to be sick(weren't coughing/sneezing) and they used hand sanitizer and other precautions. The virus can be shed when the patient does not know they are ill. There are still going to be people in the community in that category, and even now, people who can actively shed viruses could probably do it so much more effectively when making lovely music by inhaling deeply and forcing it out frequently and at a high pressure, through relatively small pathways. As a church, we will be safer to meet together to preach, pray, and take the sacraments fairly soon. But singing may have to come later, or with different precautions. And yes, that is a "theory" but one based on some very real observations from the Sagit Choir, and also from the mechanics of singing. Priscilla Thibault, MD