The Volume of a Singer's Voice Could Matter in Coronavirus Spread, Study Says

The study had 25 professional singers sing, talk, breathe, and cough into funnels.

Singing too loudly at concerts could spread coronavirus, a new study published in The Guardian says but there is good news that if the performer sings lower it could help ebb the transmission of germs from  illness in a room.

"The volume of the activity, whether it is speaking or singing softly or speaking or singing loudly, that is really the main factor in governing the aerosol mass that is generated," Jonathan Reid, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Bristol, co-authored said.

While drive-in concerts have occurred in parts of the world as well as socially distant gigs, the potential for a return to normalcy for the concert industry remains unknown. Reid and his team asked 25 professional singers to sing, talk, breathe, and cough into funnels, the study suggests that singing or speaking quietly produces less of the air droplets that could spread the novel virus.

“It is not about the vocalisation – whether it’s singing or speaking – it is about the volume,” Reid said.

COVID-19 is believed to spread primarily through large droplets, but smaller droplets that hang in the air – aerosols – are another possible means of transmission. 

One of the study’s co-authors, Declan Costello, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, says that the venue also plays a factor in how it is spread through singing.

If someone is singing in a big cathedral the aerosol risk is relatively low compared to singing in close quarters at a bar or club.

“Intuitively that would seem to be the case, assuming people are speaking or singing at the same sorts of volume,” Costello added.

Sadly, the study only suggests that these instances occur if one person is singing at a time and not in chorus.

“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,” Dr. Julian Tang an honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, who was not involved in the study told The Guardian.