The Science Behind Why Singing Could Spread Coronavirus

Singing has been banned from weddings for the foreseeable future. So, what's the issue?

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Singing is off limits under the new government guidance for coronavirus-safe weddings. So why is it such a problem?

It’s thought that belting out a few tunes could spread the virus because when you sing, you expel droplets and aerosols from your nose and mouth. The virus can hitch a ride on these droplets, landing on nearby surfaces or infecting people in close proximity who breathe in smaller, infected droplets.

We also expel these droplets when we sneeze, cough, talk and breathe. But with singing, the volume of our voice tends to be louder and it’s been suggested we end up expelling more droplets as a result.

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A previous study investigating the role of singing in the spread of tuberculosis found the percentage of particles generated by singing is six times more than that emitted during normal talking.

It’s also been suggested droplets can travel further during singing – if you’re belting out a power ballad, you’re likely to be spreading droplets that travel further than six feet (or two metres).

But whether these particles will then go on to successfully infect others is debatable, as they can disperse in the air or drop quickly to the ground. It’s thought there’s a low risk of infection via aerosols for the average person.

That said, there have been various “super spreader” events involving choirs. In one choir practice in March – lasting 2.5 hours – 32 people (of 61 in total) ended up with confirmed Covid-19, and 20 had “probable” cases. Three patients were hospitalised and two died. Researchers said transmission of the virus was likely facilitated by close proximity during practice and augmented by the act of singing.

In Amsterdam, 102 of 130 choristers fell ill with Covid-19 following a performance right before lockdown. One person died and three ended up in intensive care.

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The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has linked transmission of Covid-19 to specific activities, such as singing in a choir or religious services, that may be characterised “by increased production of respiratory droplets through loud speech and singing”.

Some believe singing isn’t the problem – but rather, the close contact. Fluid mechanics expert, Professor Christian Kähler, of the American Military University, conducted a study of droplet spread at concerts and found singing to be “quite safe”.

He told The Guardian: “Air was only propelled about half a metre in front of a singer, and that is not far enough to cause the infection levels of these outbreaks.”

People in choirs may have caught the virus through their social behaviour instead, he suggested – through hugging and kissing, sharing snacks, and standing close by.

Kähler’s study suggests individual singers might want to use shields to limit droplets from landing on audience members in the future, and said when choirs return they should be seated 1.5m apart, in a staggered arrangement.