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Policies and Protocols for Safely Singing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maintaining the health, safety, and well-being of our choristers, staff, family members, and other people in the UCS community is our top priority.

In consultation with an experienced epidemiologist, we have developed the following set of policies and protocols, which will remain in effect through December 31, 2020 and until further notice:

To minimize the risk of singing in a group during the COVID-19 pandemic, United Choir School is rehearsing and performing exclusively in outdoor locations with masks and social distancing.  We are adhering to recommendations, developed under the auspices of the National Federation of State High School Associations.* The recommendations are based on a study led by Shelly Miller, PhD, University of Colorado Boulder and Jelena Srebric, PhD, University of Maryland College Park. The study is investigating how performing arts groups can rehearse and perform safely during the pandemic.

On August 6, 2020 the research team released a second round of preliminary findings, which included the following key recommendations:

1. Outdoor locations are safest

2. For shelter, a canopy with fully open sides will allow adequate air flow

3. Participants should wear a snug-fitting surgical mask (should leave a mask outline when removed) with 64% particle removal efficiency (ASTM Level 3)

4. Maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others in all directions

5. Sing in 30-minute blocks with a 5-minute pause between blocks to allow for adequate outdoor aerosol dispersal

A separate group of scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder has developed a tool that quantifies the risk of transmitting a COVID-19 infection in various situations, including singing in a choir.**  Applying the tool to our rehearsal context, assume that one chorister, unaware that she has an active COVID-19 infection, attends a 1-hour rehearsal held under the outdoor conditions described above.  In that case, according to the tool, the risk to another chorister of becoming infected during the rehearsal is approximately 0.12%, or about 1 in 800.  In the unlikely event that two choristers with active infections simultaneously attend a given rehearsal, the risk to an uninfected chorister increases to 0.23%, or about 1 in 400.

How should these risk estimates be interpreted?  First, the estimates produced by the tool are based on a fluid dynamics model of aerosol disease transmission, rather than on COVID-19 transmission data gathered during actual choir rehearsals.  While the tool provides the best risk estimates currently available, precise risk data can only be obtained from future epidemiologic studies involving real choirs practicing during the pandemic.

Second, while it is not possible to reduce the risk of singing in a choir to zero, even a presumed worst-case scenario involving two infected choristers simultaneously attending an outdoor rehearsal poses minimal risk to other choristers.  Under these very unlikely circumstances, the model suggests that the probability of not catching COVID-19 from either of the infected choristers would still be 99.7% (399/400) when all masking, distancing, and timing precautions are followed.

Finally, United Choir School policies must be guided by an overabundance of caution.  While the risk of disease transmission at a given choir rehearsal may be near zero—it is unlikely that a chorister or staff member with an active COVID-19 infection would attend—we will always behave as if an infected person is present.


*https://www.nfhs.org/articles/unprecedented-international-coalition-led-by-performing-arts-organizations-to-commission-covid-19-study/

**Jimenez JL. Estimator of COVID-19 Airborne Transmission. https://tinyurl.com/covid-estimator