facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
2x1Lyric_Hammersmith_Theatre_Photo_David_Tett_ylgmdc_zhlzuz

Preliminary research suggests singing is no more risky than talking at a similar volume for virus spread

Published 21 August 2020

New research suggests that singing does not produce substantially more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume. But this all depends on how loud a person is, according to the initial findings which are yet to be peer-reviewed.

As the pandemic swept across the world in March, theatre venues across the UK closed their doors, causing a devastating impact on the performing arts sector.

Having been deemed as a higher risk activity for the spread of the virus, live indoor performances were cancelled until last weekend when the government announced that indoor performances could go ahead with strict social distancing. Though few theatres are now beginning to make plans for reopening, the majority still remain closed because it is simply not economically viable for many to open as they need to play to, at least 70 to 80% capacity to break even. 

As we move into Stage 5 of the government’s roadmap to recovery (indoor performance with fuller audiences), a new research project has been supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and was carried out by a team of researchers including from Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and Royal Brompton Hospital.

The new project, called Perform, looked at the amount of aerosols and droplets generated by performers. The findings could have implications for live indoor performances.

Aerosols are tiny particles which are exhaled from the body and float in the air. There is emerging evidence that coronavirus can be spread through these particles, as well in droplets that fall onto surfaces and are then touched.

Twenty-five professional performers of different genders, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds – musical theatre, opera, gospel, jazz and pop – were invited to take part in the study.  They were asked to individually complete a number of exercises including singing and speaking Happy Birthday at different pitches and volumes, in an operating theatre where there were no other aerosols present.

The researchers then analysed the aerosols produced by specific sounds and found that the volume of the voice had the largest impact on the amount of aerosol produced. For example, there was some small difference between speaking and singing at a similar level, however singing or shouting at the loudest level could generate 30 times more aerosol.

Researchers also found that ventilation could have an impact on how aerosol builds up. The larger the venue and the more ventilation there is could affect how concentrated the volumes are.

Jonathan Reid, professor of physical chemistry at the University of Bristol, is one of the authors of the paper, which was supported by Public Health England.

He 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.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I know singing is an important passion and pastime for many people, who I’m sure will join me in welcoming the findings of this important study.

“We have worked closely with medical experts throughout this crisis to develop our understanding of Covid-19, and we have now updated our guidance in light of these findings so people can get back to performing together safely.”

Dr Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “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.”

Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said: “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. 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.”

If you’d like to find out more, the research paper Comparing the respirable aerosol concentrations and particle size distributions generated by singing, speaking and breathing, is available on ChemRxiv.

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.