Munich study cuts Covid distance for winds

Munich study cuts Covid distance for winds


norman lebrecht

November 25, 2020

According to this latest study, 1.5 metres is all you need in the woodwinds.

Results of BR Symphony Orchestra aerosol study
Scientists at the LMU Clinic in Munich and UK Erlangen investigated the spread of aerosols when playing the trumpet, flute and clarinet

Following the study results on the risk of corona infection when singing with singers from the Bavarian Radio Choir, further results are now available from this extensive study by the LMU Clinic in Munich, the University Hospital Erlangen and the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation. The further evaluation of the data concerned the spread of aerosol – and thus the possible transmission of viruses – when playing wind instruments, which was examined with members of the BR Symphony Orchestra. According to the results, the distances in the orchestra, at least to the side, could be smaller than is currently recommended. The research was funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art.

State Minister Bernd Sibler emphasized: “One of my central tasks as Minister of Art is to make culture possible. In times of the pandemic, protecting the health of musicians and the public is particularly important. The better we know about the corona virus, the more targeted we can take measures for safe music-making. As Minister of Science, I therefore support the work of our scientists with full conviction. It is fundamental to being able to make responsible decisions. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this study and thus provide perspectives for possible openings . “

Visualization of aerosol clouds through the substance of e-cigarettes

In contrast to studies that measured the absolute aerosol concentration through playing music, the approach of this study was to determine the acute spread and distribution of aerosols in the room through the playing of certain wind instruments. Prof. Dr. Matthias Echternach, Head of the Phoniatrics and Pediatric Audiology Department at the Department of Otolaryngology and Polyclinic for Otorhinolaryngology at the LMU Munich Clinic, and PD Dr. Stefan Kniesburges, fluid mechanic in phoniatrics and pediatric audiology at the ENT clinic at the University Hospital Erlangen (FAU), set up a test setup in Studio 2 at the BR location Unterföhring in which aerosols that were inhaled through the basic substance of e-cigarettes are in their spread when playing wind instruments could be observed and measured.

Recommended distances to the front and to the side

The evaluation of the measurements via the radiated aerosol clouds showed that the musicians should keep a greater distance from their colleagues in front than to the side. Always provided that the room is permanently ventilated and that the aerosols are regularly removed with fresh air. “The measured wind instruments differ in their radiation characteristics towards the front. For the trumpet and the clarinet, we measured an average distance of 0.9 meters from the cloud to the mouth. However, a few musicians also achieved widths of 1.5 meters, so safety distances of 2 metres are recommended. With the flute, however, the measured pulse radiation to the front via the mouthpiece even reached widths of up to 2 meters. Therefore, safety distances of 2 meters are to be assessed as too small and 3 meters as appropriate. The radiation to the side remained under one meter for all musicians. ‘A safety distance of 1.5 meters seems to be sufficient, in contrast to the previously recommended 2 meters,’ says Matthias Echternach.

‘However, the data only refer to the direct propagation through the own impulse when playing. For the safety of the musicians, however, it is important that the aerosols are permanently removed from the room so that they do not accumulate’, adds Stefan Kniesburges . How far aerosols can be removed under real stage and rehearsal conditions is not yet well understood in the opinion of the study directors. ‘With regard to the real rehearsal and performance conditions for making music, further studies are necessary in order to examine additional measures with regard to their potential for risk reduction and their acoustic effects.’

Larger concert repertoire possible again by reducing the distances

‘This extremely thorough study provides important information about safe distances between musicians on stage. We hope that your findings will be quickly incorporated into the requirements of decision-makers,’ says Nikolaus Pont, manager of the BR Symphony Orchestra. ‘Just the reduction of the lateral distances between the wind instruments would enable us to perform a much larger repertoire again.’

Christopher Corbett, principal clarinetist at the BRSO, adds: ‘For us musicians it is a basic requirement that we hear each other well in order to be able to make music. It would be enormously helpful if the distances within a vocal group in a row could be reduced The musical and emotional communication with colleagues would be easier again, and it becomes audible.’



  • Good. Progress! Sibler makes several key points in his brief comment above. It is regrettable that the Berlin authorities have moved so heavy-handedly (there being no performances at all currently), as if the middle-ground measures of the summer were worthless. At a BRSO concert last month we audience members were spaced so far apart, with three empty seats laterally and a vacant row forwards, that it seemed nobody there could possibly have given or gotten the virus. The players looked safe too in repertory for enlarged chamber forces sprawled across space for full orchestra. Tickets were scanned, no program books were handed out, and indeed there was no personal physical contact at all. With the new data from LMU, it should be possible to move constructively forward. But this depends on powers outside Bavaria.

  • Lancelot Spratt FRS says:

    I think they need to read Nick Wilson’s monograph in BMJ, also this other study. Evidence it can be transmitted in hospital wards up to 5m!

    Ventilation is key to reducing infection. AC merely recirculates, I always turn it off when in hotels etc and open windows. Modern architecture has sick building syndrome because of poor ventilation, dead air spaces.

    COVID-19 transmission—up in the air (

    Airborne transmission of covid-19 (

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Recirculation would be adequate if implemented with sufficient filtration (is HEPA enough?) or sterilization (e.g., high-intensity UV in the duct work, where it can’t irradiate people).

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      > “Evidence it can be transmitted in hospital wards up to 5m!”

      What’s the worth of evidence, when the web and associated media allows one to ventilate one’s pet beliefs — or follies — unimpeded by science, reason, logic or empirical experimentation?

      Worse, what’s the weight of evidence, when an uncommented, easily misunderstood headline like “According to this latest study, 1.5 metres is all you need in the woodwinds” guarantees the multiplication of clicks?

      Maybe I shouldn’t even be asking about the worth of *evidence*.
      Perhaps the real question is about the worth of a *life*.
      A life’s worth, and the need for careful, reasoned, genuinely inquisitive reporting that is critical in safeguarding it.

      It may be fair to declare a personal interest: I am undergoing a course of therapy requiring periodic hospital treatment, and physicians and personnel are scared stiff of the current conditions. So am I. Every couple of weeks, my treating physician, the hospital statistician and I hold an online briefing to evaluate current infection risks against the risk of postponing a treatment session. Current aerosol and viral load data from the various wards are given the most careful consideration. The penalty for underestimating these factors would be a tad more drastic than an impaired “musical and emotional communication with colleagues”. (And I am at least in a position to passively protect and isolate myself as well as possible under the circumstances.
      Orchestra musicians simply cannot.)

      • Lancelot Spratt FRS says:

        If it is not published in a peer reviewed medical journal eg BMJ it is not evidence. The evidence is 1.5m is too short.

  • Occamsrazor says:

    Any adjustment of these distances whether farther or closer has the effect that is unfortunately overlooked by the majority of people. It shortens the distance between most people who learn about such adjustments and a nuthouse.

  • Inchiquin says:

    In the first performance of Messiah in the Musick Hall in Fishamble street Dublin, 13 April 1742 my ancestor recorded that to accommodate 600 persons, gentlemen were asked not to wear their swords and ladies their bell hoops, the large glass window pane near to the upper gallery in the ceiling was also removed, it becoming uncommonly heated within.

  • Michael says:

    Let’s forget about the fact that musicians are on stage to play instruments. They are seated close together in spaces that are not ventilated. Especially in Winter. That in itself makes the situation dangerous, especially for the winds, since they cannot wear masks 100% of the time. If the winds are constantly taking off and putting on their masks, that in itself is dangerous and not recommended by the experts.

    As far as the woodwinds go, the flute is probably the worst, since they blow a lot of air and a good amount goes over the head joint. The brass instruments have little air coming out of the bell. They do leave a lot of saliva on the floor, and saliva can exit the sides of the mouth as well, so all of these tests that they claim make it seem safer than it seems are silly. If it is dangerous to be anywhere without masks among people, then the same applies to orchestras. The aerosoles will still be there regardless of whether you have 1 or 2 meters of space separating the musicians.