Recently, the CDC removed its warnings about limiting choirs during religious services. The original guidelines included recommending that religious gatherings “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition,” with a warning that “[t]he act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
However, as reported by the Washington Post, the reference to choir singing was removed, with new language added in that this guidance was not “intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment [in the U.S.].”
Singing adds an extra level of risk
As the CDC wrote in a report on a choir practice that took place in Washington State in March in which 87% of the attendees got sick, “Aerosol emission during speech has been correlated with loudness of vocalisation,” which includes the act of singing, especially for sustained periods of time.
The choir practice in Washington State, attended by 61 of the choir’s 122 members, is a classic example of a super-spreader event in which a lone person infects a large number of other people in a single event. In this particular case, a total of 53 people got sick.
This choir practice was a two and a half hour event, with singers sitting in chairs spaced 15 to 20 cm apart. Although it may be an outlier in terms of the duration of the practice, the effect of singing is thought to have played a role in transmission.
It’s important to adhere to all safety precautions
In these times, a religious service can be a source of comfort and community. However, if you decide to attend, recommended safety precautions should be maintained: keeping six feet of distance, wearing a mask, washing your hands and limiting the amount of time you spend around others.
In response to the CDC’s removal of cautionary language about choir practices, Lea Hamner, the lead author of the CDC choir practice report, told NPR, “As a Public Health official, I would strongly encourage that religious services continue to happen remotely or in cars, and large group gatherings not take place unless strict safety measures are put in place such as physical distancing, wearing face coverings or masks, providing tools for excellent hand hygiene, and not attending while ill.”
As we’ve written before, when it comes to reducing risk, it’s important to consider the concept of “People, Time, Space and Place.” Religious services are no exception. Before you decide to attend, give careful consideration to factors such as how many people will be attending, how long the service will last and whether the layout of the space allows for proper physical distancing. Choir ensembles, or singing together as a congregation, will add to the overall level of risk. Think through the logistics, make an informed decision and stay as safe as possible.