Newswise — Aerosol generated by playing woodwind and brass instruments is less than that produced when vocalising (speaking and singing) and is no different than a person breathing, new research has found. The findings, published online in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology, could be crucial to developing a roadmap for lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the performing arts, which have been significantly restricted since the start of the pandemic.
The research project, known as PERFORM (ParticulatE Respiratory Matter to InForm Guidance for the Safe Distancing of PerfOrmeRs in a COVID-19 PandeMic), was supported by Public Health England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and UKRI and was carried out by a collaborative team from Imperial College London, University of Bristol, Wexham Park Hospital, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and Royal Brompton Hospital.
The study looked at the amount of aerosols and droplets generated when playing woodwind and brass instruments compared with breathing and vocalisation (speaking and singing). The work was carried out in an environment with no background aerosol particles to complicate measurement interpretation, with nine musicians playing 13 woodwind and brass instruments.
The research team found aerosol (<20 μm diameter) generated while playing woodwind and brass instruments is similar to that produced by breathing, based on measurements of several musicians playing the flute and piccolo as well measurements across a range of instruments including clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and tuba. Aerosol concentrations generated while instrument playing were lower than those associated with vocalising at high volume.
Large droplets (>20 μm diameter) were not observed during instrument playing but were observed during singing and coughing. Together the findings indicate that playing woodwind and brass instruments generates less aerosol than vocalising at high volume levels.
Concentrations of aerosol emissions from the musicians during breathing and vocalising were consistent with results from a study carried out last year of a large group of professional singers. No difference was found between the aerosol concentrations generated by professional and amateur performers while breathing or vocalising, suggesting aerosol generation is consistent across amateur and professional singers regardless of vocal training.
Dr Bryan Bzdek, Lecturer in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and corresponding author on the paper, said: “Our study found playing woodwind and brass instruments generates less aerosol than vocalisation, which could have important policy implications in a roadmap to lifting COVID-19 restrictions, as many performing arts activities have been, and continue to be, severely restricted.”
Jonathan Reid, Director of Bristol Aerosol Research Centre and Professor of Physical Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, added: “This study confirms that the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are likely elevated during vocalisation at loud volume in poorly ventilated spaces. By comparison, playing wind instruments, like breathing, generates less particles that could carry the virus than speaking or singing.”
‘Aerosol and droplet generation from performing with woodwind and brass instruments’ by Jonathan P. Reid, Pallav L. Shah, and Bryan R. Bzdek et al. in Aerosol Science and Technology
Notes to editors:
For further information or to arrange an interview with Dr Bryan Bzdek and Professor Jonathan Reid, please contact Joanne Fryer [Mon to Wed], email [email protected], mobile: +44 (0)7747 768805 or Caroline Clancy [Wed to Fri], email [email protected], mobile: +44 (0)7776 170238.
An image from the scientific study is available to download from the following URL:
Caption: Classical musician and award-winning professional trumpeter Alison Balsom taking part in the PERFORM-2 study. Alison is pictured in an operating theatre (a zero aerosol environment) playing the recorder into a funnel that allows the researchers to measure the aerosols generated from playing the instrument.
Credit: University of Bristol
The image is for single-use only, should be credited and should not be archived.
About Professor Jonathan Reid’s Research Group, University of Bristol
Professor Reid is Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Aerosol Science, current president of the UK and Ireland Aerosol Society, and Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Bristol.
About the Bristol Aerosol Research Centre (BARC) Research at the Bristol Aerosol Research Centre (BARC) is focussed on improving our understanding of the physical and chemical properties of aerosols at a single particle level. Aerosols play important roles in a broad range of disciplines including atmospheric science, the delivery of drugs to the lungs, the formation of structured micro- and nanoparticles, and combustion science.
About the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) helps to drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad. We protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage and help businesses and communities to grow by investing in innovation and highlighting Britain as a fantastic place to visit. We help to give the UK a unique advantage on the global stage, striving for economic success.
About UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £8 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.
Bristol UNCOVER Group In response to the COVID-19 crisis, researchers at the University of Bristol formed the Bristol COVID Emergency Research Group (UNCOVER) to pool resources, capacities and research efforts to combat this infection.
Bristol UNCOVER includes clinicians, immunologists, virologists, synthetic biologists, aerosol scientists, epidemiologists and mathematical modellers and has links to behavioural and social scientists, ethicists and lawyers.
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Aerosol Science and Technology