Choirs can kill during a pandemic

Choirs can kill during a pandemic
Image: Jens P. Raak/Pixaby

Choirs can endanger your health in a coronavirus pandemic. Singing spreads COVID-19 better than talking, as the Cato Institute’s Paul Matzko explains in a series of tweets.

As he notes, “You might have heard about the church choir in Washington State in which 45 of 60 members fell ill with COVID-19 (and at least two of which have died thus far). All it took was a single choir meeting; even standing six feet apart was insufficient.” As CNN reported, “Two people have died from Covid-19 and 45 people are ill after a March 10 choir practice in Washington state, health officials said.”

As Matzko explains, “It was because singing is forceful exhalation, not quite as strong as a cough or sneeze but significantly wider dispersion of droplets than talking or breathing. It’s an ideal method of transmission, sustained and forceful.”

As Matzko notes, “This also is why putting a halt on in-person church attendance” during a coronavirus epidemic “is so important. The entire congregation is a choir and unless everyone stands perhaps 20 feet apart, you’re just begging for a similar mass infection scenario. It also helps explain how Patient 31 in South Korea managed to expose more than a thousand people to the virus. She went to two church services, but direct physical contact can only explain perhaps a few dozen contacts, not hundreds.”

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Matzko says churches should take longer term measures against coronavirus even after they resume in-person church services: “A friend who is a member of her church’s choir suggested that even once the peak of the pandemic is passed, churches should consider easing back into regular services. They could, for example, limit the amount of congregational singing for a period.”

Matzko recommends that “the pastor’s podium should be set back a healthy distance from the congregation and, as importantly, set on floor level. A raised podium will increase the effective transmission distance since droplets have a falling trajectory. Even when the shelter-at-home directives are over,” churches should “ease back in by breaking up a smaller number of larger services into a larger number of smaller services. Divide your congregation up into smaller groups and then encourage them to sit only” in limited numbers of people “to a pew.”

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at [email protected]


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