Physical Chemistry

Comparing the Respirable Aerosol Concentrations and Particle Size Distributions Generated by Singing, Speaking and Breathing

Abstract

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented shutdown in social and economic activity with the cultural sector particularly severely affected. Restrictions on performance have arisen from a perception that there is a significantly higher risk of aerosol production from singing than speaking based upon high-profile examples of clusters of COVID-19 following choral rehearsals. However, no direct comparison of aerosol generation from singing and speaking has been reported. Here, we measure aerosols from singing, speaking and breathing in a zero-background environment, allowing unequivocal attribution of aerosol production to specific vocalisations. Speaking and singing show steep increases in mass concentration with increase in volume (spanning a factor of 20-30 across the dynamic range measured, p<1×10-5). At the quietest volume (50 to 60 dB), neither singing (p=0.19) or speaking (p=0.20) were significantly different to breathing. At the loudest volume (90 to 100 dB), a statistically significant difference (p<1×10-5) is observed between singing and speaking, but with singing only generating a factor of between 1.5 and 3.4 more aerosol mass. Guidelines should create recommendations based on the volume and duration of the vocalisation, the number of participants and the environment in which the activity occurs, rather than the type of vocalisation. Mitigations such as the use of amplification and increased attention to ventilation should be employed where practicable.

Content

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