Comparing aerosol concentrations and particle size distributions generated by singing, speaking and breathing

et al.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented shutdown in social and economic activity, with the cultural sector particularly severely affected. Restrictions on musical performances have arisen from a perception that there is a significantly higher risk of aerosol production from singing than speaking, based upon high-profile examples of clusters of COVID-19 following choral rehearsals. However, comparing aerosol generation from different types of vocalization, including singing, across a range of volumes is a rapidly evolving area of research. Here, we measured aerosols from singing, speaking and breathing from a large cohort of 25 professional singers in a range of musical genres in a zero-background environment, allowing unequivocal attribution of aerosol production to specific vocalizations. We do not assess the relative volumes at which people speak and sing. However, both showed steep increases in mass concentration with increase in loudness (spanning a factor of 20–30 across the dynamic range measured, p < 0.001). At the quietest volume (50 to 60 dBA), neither singing (p = 0.19) nor speaking (p = 0.20) were significantly different to breathing. At the loudest volume (90 to 100 dBA), a statistically significant difference (p < 0.001) was observed between singing and speaking, but with singing only generating a factor of between 1.5 and 3.4 more aerosol mass. Guidelines for musical performances should be based on the loudness and duration of the vocalization, the number of participants and the environment in which the activity occurs, rather than the type of vocalization. Mitigations such as the use of amplification and increased attention to ventilation should be employed where practicable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-691
Number of pages11
JournalAerosol Science and Technology
Volume55
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the Working Group for The Investigation of ParticulatE Respiratory Matter to InForm Guidance for the Safe Distancing of PerfOrmeRs in a COVID-19 PandeMic (PERFORM). BRB acknowledges support from the Natural Environment Research Council through grant NE/P018459/1. Dyson, Inc., the Atmospheric Measurement and Observation Facility, and the Health and Safety Executive are acknowledged for APS loans. Fortius Clinic and Shoen Clinic are acknowledged for the provision of the operating theatre space to conduct the measurements. We acknowledge the BBC Singers, Eleven Management and the performers for volunteering to be included in this study. We acknowledge Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport who acted as sponsor and funded the research, respectively.

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the Working Group for The Investigation of ParticulatE Respiratory Matter to InForm Guidance for the Safe Distancing of PerfOrmeRs in a COVID-19 PandeMic (PERFORM). BRB acknowledges support from the Natural Environment Research Council through grant NE/P018459/1. Dyson, Inc., the Atmospheric Measurement and Observation Facility, and the Health and Safety Executive are acknowledged for APS loans. Fortius Clinic and Shoen Clinic are acknowledged for the provision of the operating theatre space to conduct the measurements. We acknowledge the BBC Singers, Eleven Management and the performers for volunteering to be included in this study. We acknowledge Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport who acted as sponsor and funded the research, respectively.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Association for Aerosol Research.

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