Blowin' in the wind

University of Utah engineers conduct air flow study to help Utah Symphony musicians stay safe from COVID-19.
University of Utah
18-Sep-2020 3:10 PM EDT, by University of Utah

Newswise — Sept. 17, 2020 — In the era of a global pandemic, symphony orchestras are justifiably concerned that live performances could prove to be risky – not only for audience members but also for their musicians.

While string musicians can wear protective face masks, those playing wind and brass instruments confront greater challenges as sound is produced by their own breath exerted through their instruments, creating airflow around them on stage.

That’s why two University of Utah chemical engineering researchers were hired by leadership at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera to conduct a series of airflow studies inside Abravanel Hall, the orchestra’s concert venue, and help identify and inform decisions on returning to live performances.

            It is part of a larger plan the symphony is developing so its upcoming season starting this week can be as safe as possible for both the audience and the musicians.

Chemical engineering professor James Sutherland, assistant professor Tony Saad and a team of students spent July and August investigating the potential risk by first measuring the flow rates through the air vents of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. They also obtained the air flow measurements of various wind instruments, data that was already available through researchers at the University of Minnesota.

            Using high-powered computers at the U’s Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC), the two professors developed simulations of how the air flows through, and ultimately, off the stage via the HVAC system. They also developed a computer model of how emissions from each of the wind instruments, such as the trumpets, flutes, oboes and clarinets, interacted with the air flow from the HVAC system.

            The goal, Sutherland says, was to find the most effective way to get the emissions from the wind instruments to flow into the current of the air conditioning system, off the stage and ultimately out of the building.

            “We would look at the results of the simulation and learn this particular instrument was problematic. Then we would ask where we can move it to mitigate the risk,” says Sutherland. “We would move the musician around, and we would perform a new simulation.”

            Their final recommendations for the orchestra involve moving just about every musician to a different spot on the stage to maximize the flow of their emissions out of the auditorium. They also had suggestions for the HVAC system itself to improve the flow dynamics above the stage. With all of these recommendations, Saad, Sutherland and their team learned they can reduce the potential concentration of the virus on stage by more than a hundred times.

            “We have been honored to help the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera understand the risk of returning to the stage, and thanks to the power of computational fluid dynamics and high performance computing we were able to get the results in time,” Saad says. “I thank our team who have diligently worked on this and the U's CHPC for granting us a generous computing allocation on their supercomputers.”

            David Green, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, says the orchestra will be utilizing variations of these recommendations and those from epidemiologists depending on each performance.

            “The engineers helped us to achieve the data we wanted, and we paired that with the medical science,” he says. “We now know what’s going on onstage with the air flow, and we know how to react in any given configuration. It’s been a godsend for us, and it helps not only our staff and musicians but the audience.”

            The recommendations are part of a larger safety plan the organization is implementing for this year’s season, which includes reducing capacity to around 15 percent of the hall, seating audiences in every third row, keeping six feet of distance between separate households, and requiring all patrons wear face coverings at all times while inside performance venues. The programs will also be shorter in length without intermissions, however extra performances will be added to offset the smaller audiences at each concert.

            Sutherland and Saad are doing the same analysis for the Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City for the upcoming season of the Utah Opera in October.

            “It just takes a huge burden off me and everyone involved to have empirical evidence that shows we’re protecting people,” Patricia A. Richards, former interim chief executive and president of the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera, says about the air flow study. “We feel we have a huge obligation to the community to bring inspiration and healing at this time when people are feeling isolated. If we can do that safely, then that’s our mission.”

            This news release, photos and videos may be downloaded from

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 3817
Released: 30-Oct-2020 6:35 PM EDT
UCLA Health infectious disease experts tout critical role mask wearing plays in limiting spread of COVID-19
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

With thousands of new cases logged daily and a vaccine to fight COVID-19 still in development, UCLA Health infectious disease experts are encouraging people to continue to wear masks as the best method of protecting against virus transmission.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 5:35 PM EDT
Surgeon General expects COVID-19 vaccine to be available by year’s end
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

In a wide-ranging talk with UCLA Health physicians, Wednesday, Oct. 28, United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, addressed the politicization of the pandemic and the means of containing the spread of COVID-19. He also offered hope that a vaccine for the virus will be available by year’s end.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 4:15 PM EDT
Study shows myocarditis linked to COVID-19 not as common as believed
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans

A study conducted by Richard Vander Heide, MD, PhD, Professor and Director of Pathology Research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, and Marc Halushka, MD, PhD, Professor of Pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests myocarditis caused by COVID-19 may be a relatively rare occurrence.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 3-Nov-2020 11:00 AM EST Released to reporters: 30-Oct-2020 3:00 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 3-Nov-2020 11:00 AM EST The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: 247373_web.jpg
Released: 30-Oct-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Researcher develops app to reach Black community with COVID-19 information
University of Cincinnati

A University of Cincinnati cardiologist is partnering with researchers in St. Louis and rural Georgia to develop a smartphone app that will deliver COVID-19 information and education that is targeted toward Black communities.

Newswise: 247467_web.jpg
Released: 30-Oct-2020 1:55 PM EDT
SARS-CoV-2 might attack red marrow and block new erythrocytes formation
Far Eastern Federal University

Specialists from the Department of Fundamental Medicine of Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) with Russian and Japanese colleagues have probed into mechanisms of COVID-19 inside-the-body distribution linked to erythrocytes damaging. According to researchers, the virus might attack red marrow, thus being detrimental not only for erythrocytes in the bloodstream but also for the process of the formation of the new ones.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 12:40 PM EDT
Government of Canada awards $2.5M to McMaster University to support the COVID-19 border study with McMaster HealthLabs
McMaster University

McMaster University has been awarded $2.5 million from the Government of Canada to support the McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) Canadian International COVID-19 Surveillance Border Study at Toronto Pearson International Airport, being run in partnership with Air Canada and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

Released: 30-Oct-2020 12:00 PM EDT
5 Big Questions on Health Care and COVID-19
University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The coronavirus pandemic has once again thrust the unusual state of American health care into the spotlight. With a presidential election that could have a dramatic impact on the state of health care for millions on 3 November, Professor Vivian Riefberg considers the state of the industry.

Newswise: Infection by Confection: COVID-19 and the Risk of Trick-or-Treating
Released: 30-Oct-2020 11:05 AM EDT
Infection by Confection: COVID-19 and the Risk of Trick-or-Treating
University of California San Diego Health

Researchers determined that COVID-19 transmission risk via Halloween candies is low, even when they are handled by infected people, but handwashing and disinfecting collected sweets reduces risk even further.

Newswise:Video Embedded third-spike-in-covid-19-cases-plus-the-vaccine-trials-live-expert-panel-for-october-29-3pm-edt
Released: 30-Oct-2020 9:40 AM EDT
TRANSCRIPT AND VIDEO AVAILABLE: "Third spike" in COVID-19 cases, plus the vaccine trials: Live Expert Panel for October 29

"Third spike" in COVID-19 cases, plus the vaccine trials: Live Expert Panel for October 29, 3PM EDT

Showing results

110 of 3817