Did singing spread Covid in four choirs?

Did singing spread Covid in four choirs?


norman lebrecht

May 17, 2020

Following up on the terrible Concertgebouw tragedy that we reported last week, where 102 of 130 chorus members caught Coronavirus and four died, the Observer has been taking the temperature of scientists in a number of countries.

Most agree it’s too early to talk of cause and effect.

Professor Adam Finn of Bristol University: ‘The evidence for a link with singing and spreading the virus may look compelling but is still anecdotal. Without data from comparably large groups who interacted in the same way but didn’t sing, it’s hard to be certain that the singing was responsible.’

More here.



  • Ana Paula Russo says:

    The news reported “One 78-year-old died, as did three partners of choir members” – though it is regrettable the fact is that ONE senior member of the choir died, not 4. Please be accurate in these matters because people, specially artists, don’t need further panic installed.
    Covid spread in the choir as it would have spread in school classrooms, theater rehearsals, parties and so on… Just like it happens every year with flu and other viruses.
    My common sense tells me it is not the singing but the togetherness of people, no matter the activity.
    Stop this “new trend” of blaming Singing and singers!

    • I absolutely agree with you! AND it happened on March 8th before the quarantine here in the Netherlands…

      • Ana Paula Russo says:

        I agree and that’s what I thought, I don’t think it is very wise to spread news of something that happened before the quarantine (actually before we knew what was happening…) and before measures were taken. It only feeds the fear and we must start planning, imagining, creating solutions and alternative ways of having things done.

      • engineers_unite says:

        So what’s international woman’s day got to do with this nonsense??

        Sars-Cov alias the wuflu was already widely distributed and present throughout Europe by mid December.

        Samples retested from northern Paris have revealed TWO of the acute pneumonia cases were Covid-19, so,-

        it was already being widely spread worldwide by the Chinese who remain in denial, and by the entire filthy French RER, Metro and their disgusting Paris Bercy bus station transport systems all over France by new year.

        Other super vectors of the infection were the MILAN fashion week in mid Feb, where now, well known Covid pos fashionistas went immediately from there to Paris fashion week the following week, and without any border control whatsoever from Milan thru to Chamonix and on, very likely throughout the whole of the French, Austrian & Italian alps during the whole ski season.

        Better know what you are talking about.

        A widespread pandemic of this type could only happen as a result of long latency delays of totally assymptomatic young people getting slightly ill enough for mild symptoms, while travelling between every capital in Europe in a short time.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          “Covid-19 was already widely distributed and present throughout Europe by mid December.”

          No it wasn’t. It was only in a few isolated cases in December, and didn’t become widespread until sometime in February.

          December was about the last time it could be eliminated through “track-and trace”. Unfortunately nobody knew it was there, not even the Chinese.

    • SSD says:

      I don’t think anyone is blaming “Singing and singers!” Norman, like the rest of us, is just trying to understand how this virus spreads so rapidly. This pandemic has most people scared, which leads to speculation and a desire to say we won’t catch it, because we did or didn’t do something.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “has most people scared”

        There is no particular reason to be scared since it is only mildly dangerous (probably about three times more dangerous than the flu). As long as your health hasn’t been compromised for other reasons, then it has very small risk. Overwhelmingly most people have only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.

        The reason to go into lockdown is really to ensure the health system doesn’t get overwhelmed. It did get overwhelmed in Lombardy, Spain, New York and it looks like it is about to get overwhelmed in Sao Paolo.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Given more incidents like this one, where a group of people are together in a more or less closed space (like people celebrating carnival in a cold February, or après-ski time in the Alps), it seems that being exposed to micro droplets over a long time in a space with poor ventilation, is the reason that suddenly many people get infected: they inhale micro droplets perpetually and gather a great number of virusses also if these virusses are carried by only one person.

    This video from the World Economic Forum about recent Japanese research makes this clear:


    This also explains the relative low number of infections at places where many people are close together but in the open air: India, Pakistan, Africa, fugitive camps.

    • Keith says:

      In the open air? There are no buildings in India, Pakistan or Africa? At least nothing bigger than a mud hut presumably. So how do you explain what is happening in Mumbai?


      Whereas in Kerala there have been relatively few cases, because the problem was anticipated and planned for and dealt with efficiently (unlike most of Europe and the United States) not because they are in the “open air”:


      • John Borstlap says:

        These articles show clusters of outbreaks, but that is different from the very vast areas which are much more open. It is not so that badly-ventilated spaces offer the only route of infection, but it is one of the routes that is often forgotten. Distancing, testing, tracing, mouth masks, and avoiding of groups in badly ventilated spaces all reduce the risks, it seems by now.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Nobody really knows how many people are getting infected in Africa or India. While sharing the same air in a confined space will spread it (and this seems to be the main reason winter flu happens in winter). It is difficult to be certain that it isn’t spreading and killing people in Africa and India given the primitive health care most people in those places have available to them.

      One thing is for sure, it will almost certainly never be eliminated in those places, and they will almost certainly be a reservoir of infection from which the virus will be periodically reimported into Europe and North America.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    This is simply going to fall into the gap between intuitive ‘common sense’ that may have no scientific basis, and the unwillingness of professional scientists to ‘confirm’ anything that hasn’t been extensively researched, peer-reviewed and published. The only useful thing we can do now is to decide whether or not we’re willing to accept unknown risks; and to send sympathy to the bereaved.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Lots of things that seem “intuitive common sense” turn out to actually be wrong, unfortunately.

  • Brian says:

    And then there was also this case of a choir in Washington State in which 87% of members caught Covid-19. The CDC’s Website details how the spread happened through singing:
    “Transmission was likely facilitated by close proximity (within 6 feet) during practice and augmented by the act of singing.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      Add to that the lack of sufficient ventilation and people are locked-up in a corona trap.

    • Paula says:

      Yes, and the chorus of the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid: lots of them got infected by COVID in early March

  • Brian says:

    Update to previous comment: the Washington State case is discussed in the Guardian/Observer article. That said, I’m a little surprised that they found researchers to suggest that singing does not transmit the disease given all we’re starting to know about aerosols and their ability to linger in an enclosed space.

  • sam says:

    “Without data from comparably large groups who interacted in the same way but didn’t sing, it’s hard to be certain that the singing was responsible.”

    The professor is some sort of mad scientist:

    1) To prove singing transmits, you just need 2 subjects in a room, you don’t need a 100.
    2) There is ample data of transmission in large groups, so there is no need to gather 100 septuagenarians in a room doing nothing just to see how many of them die off at the end of the month and compare the mortality rate to choruses.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    An orchestra could just about serve as a control sample for the singers. There must have been one that gave a concert at around the same time. Have we heard of 4 deaths (including partners) in an orchestra? One big difference might be age because the only 78 year old still part of the orchestra is going to be the conductor.

  • It is as if the professor of fluid mechanics thinks people believe the *musical tones* are the problem.

    His assertion that these choir outbreaks all happened before social distancing was practiced is incorrect. Consider the case in the US, previously covered in SD, where they did the social distancing and still many people got sick.

    He says,”However, we also found out that singing is quite safe. It was not the cause of the outbreaks of Covid-19 at these concerts…Air was only propelled about half a metre in front of a singer, and that is not far enough to cause the infection levels of these outbreaks.”

    I suspect the real doctors who have studied how airborne diseases are transmitted would disagree. His conclusion is contradicted by known examples like the Chinese bus study that showed the droplets can waft on air currents and infect someone 4 meters away and up to half an hour after the spreader left the room. It doesn’t matter that the person’s *breathe* only projects a half a meter.

    Crowds are a problem… choirs and ensembles are crowds.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Being in a confined space with lots of other people if your health is not very good is probably not a good idea. The actual singing part of being in the confined space likely makes no real difference.