Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, clusters of disease occurred in choirs. This led to an assumption that singing was inherently ‘dangerous’ and governments around the world rapidly banned singing. The ban was then extended to the playing of woodwind and brass instruments. This has had a profound effect on the cultural life of many countries.
In the absence of any research in this area, two ENT surgeons (our Editor Declan Costello and ENT Senior Trainee, Natalie Watson) teamed up with aerosol scientists from Bristol University, and with clinical researchers from the Brompton. They performed experiments to quantify the amount of aerosol generated during singing, speaking, shouting and breathing. The experiments were performed in a laminar flow operating theatre because of the very low background level of particulate matter.
The preliminary results show that there is a huge increase in aerosol mass concentration when increasing the volume of speaking/singing – by a factor of 20-30-fold. When comparing singing with speaking, there was more aerosol generated during singing, but this was a relatively small difference when compared to the effects of volume.
The media interest in this topic was enormous – in fact, when the pre-print results were announced, the story was covered in over 300 articles around the world, with an audience reach of 4.8 billion. Professor Jonathan Reid from Bristol undertook dozens of media interviews, as did Declan. As novices to the media, it was a very interesting experience for both of them!
Images above - Ben Hulett singing & the research team
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