UK Performers Freed of Extra Social Distancing After Study Finds Singing No Riskier Than Talking

A socially distanced concert study has revealed that singing is no more risky than speaking for spreading coronavirus—good news for the live music industry in England. Effective this week, performers can get back on stage without extra social distancing, putting the country one step closer to pre-Covid-19 productions.

The “Perform” study, led by University of Bristol scientists, analyzed aerosol particles and droplets generated by performers that can carry the virus. It found that singing does not emit significantly more respiratory particles than speaking at the same volume. Rather, a higher volume of either singing or speaking is what creates more particles. 

“This research supports the possibility of safe performance as long as there’s appropriate social distancing and ventilation,” said Dr. Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute, according to the BBC.

Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, shared the results on Twitter on Thursday, along with what it means for the United Kingdom. 

“Important step on getting performances back on,” Dowden tweeted. “So we can get performers back on stage without extra social distancing.”

The nation’s “performing arts guidance has now changed and is effective immediately,” Dowden added. 

“Good news for music venues, musicians, theatres & opera,” he tweeted. “We’ll keep working to get the arts going because we are #HereForCulture.”

Indoor Live Shows Resume

The findings come at the perfect time, as live indoor performance resumed in the U.K. on August 15.

Specifically, the study involved 25 professional performers of different genders, ages and ethnicities, in pop, gospel, jazz, opera and musical theater. Each performer engaged in the same exercises, which included speaking and singing Happy Birthday at different pitches and volumes in a theater. 

The 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,” said University of Bristol physical chemistry professor Jonathan Reid.

Though backed by Public Health England, the findings have not yet been peer reviewed.

The study is not representative of a real, whole choir dynamic and requires more study, warned Dr. Julian Tang, a University of Leicester honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences.

“The risks should not be overly underestimated or played down because of this,” Tang said. “We don’t want choir members getting infected and potentially dying from Covid-19 whilst doing what they love.”

While the study did not focus on dance music performers, it applies favorably. Most dance music artists play solo DJ sets and typically invite one vocalist on stage at a time. And DJs playing live sets are sometimes the singers of their own tracks. 

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