Things You Should Know Before You Get Ready to Sing
By Diana Sanchez-Bushong
Can you remember the last time you sang full voice in worship? It seems impossible that it was over a year ago that our houses of worship closed, and we switched to online worship; and we were advised not to sing in public. Study after study showed that singing is many times more likely to spread the virus than simply talking. And so, we started singing at home as we watched worship, doing our best to participate with body, mind, and spirit. It is no wonder we are all SO ready to get back to our favorite place to sit in our worship space, even as we allow for distancing and singing! Before you make that leap, however, you should consider the following.
What the CDC Says
The CDC advises that while churches are opening up, the people should remain masked and not sing until herd immunity has reached at least seventy to eighty-five percent of the population.
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An excerpt on singing from this document:
Music is a gift from God given to all creation. It is a means of connecting with God and with one another and of unifying our thoughts and understanding, our heartbeats, and breath.
Whether accessed by singing, playing, moving, or listening, music is an integral part of the majority of Christians’ worship life. Praising the Lord is a scriptural mandate (see Psalm 150), and singing is a primary way most Christians have “praised the Lord” together.
However, we are now coming to grips with this disconcerting fact: The coronavirus is spread through moist breath. Several recent studies have found that forceful, sustained breathing, such as during singing and playing brass and wind instruments, appears to pose a greater danger of spreading the coronavirus than ordinary speaking at low volume. These findings lead us to recommend the following during the pandemic:
- Refrain from congregational and choral singing.
- Encourage the congregation to participate in music with body percussion such as clapping, tapping their thighs, and stomping.
- Refrain from using any musical instruments that require breath (wind instruments, brass instruments, anything into which one blows to produce sound).
- Use all other instruments (keyboard, percussion, string).
- Avoid sharing instruments and take care to disinfect instruments before and after use.
- Limit the size of ensembles (four or fewer) and maintain a six-foot distance between performers who have face coverings on.
- Employ silence effectively. Consider using American Sign Language to sing a hymn or song silently.
- Keep up to date with ongoing research on the use of music during the pandemic. Here is a curated (and constantly updated) list of resources and updates about congregational singing and COVID-19: https://thehymnsociety.org/covid-19. Several factors can contribute to the likelihood of attendees getting and spreading COVID-19 at large events. In combination, the following factors will create higher or lower amounts of risk:
- Number of COVID-19 cases in your community – High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the event location or the locations the attendees are coming from increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Relevant data can often be found on the local health department website or on CDC’s COVID Data Tracker County View.
- Setting of the event – Indoor events, especially in places with poor ventilation, pose more risk than outdoor events.
- Length of the event – Events that last longer pose more risk than shorter events. Being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of fifteen minutes or more (over a twenty-four-hour period) greatly increases the risk of becoming infected and requires quarantine.
- Number and crowding of people at the event – Events with more people increase the likelihood of people being exposed. The size of the event should be determined based on whether attendees from different households can stay at least six feet (two arm lengths) apart. Physical distancing at events can reduce transmission risk; for example, blocking off seats or modifying room layouts.
- Behavior of attendees during an event – Events where people engage in behaviors such as interacting with others from outside their own household, singing, shouting, not maintaining physical distancing, or not wearing masks consistently and correctly, can increase risk.
More information on singing and playing instruments
Singing or playing wind instruments generates respiratory droplets and aerosols that may contain the virus that causes COVID-19.
Determining how to reopen and when to sing
- Events and Gatherings: Readiness and Planning Tool
- U.S. COVID Risk and Vaccine Tracker
- Considerations for Communities of Faith
- From the Center for Congregational Song: COVID Updates – Congregational Song
Each community will have to determine for itself when it is safe to gather, given its own limitations of space, airflow, size of congregation, and any other factors regarding herd immunity and susceptibility of members of the congregation. These links serve as a step toward making good decisions toward a safe reopening and safe singing.