Fort Collins, Colorado – A study focused on tracking the spread of COVID-19 in performing arts settings has also unveiled the population of humans who spread the most COVID-19 particles. Researchers at Colorado State University learned that men more frequently spread the coronavirus particles than women or children.
The study, which lasted months, was originally developed in an effort to see what those in the performing arts can do to facilitate a safe return to the stage following the pandemic. The performing arts, from the educational level all the way to Broadway performances, were some of the most drastically impacted fields.
Theaters, concert venues and more were completely shut down for more than a year.
"COVID shut the performing arts down almost overnight," said Dan Goble, director of CSU's School of Music, Theater and Dance. "It wasn't just a CSU problem, this was a national problem. Think about all the public-school bands, choirs and orchestras."
Goble wanted to research the correlation between the spread of COVID-19 and the performing arts. Fortunately, CSU had qualified researchers and resources already on campus to do the study in-house. Goble partnered with John Volckens, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to conduct the study.
More than 75 different people participated in the study which largely took place in a chamber used for testing particles in the air. Participants were of different ages and skillsets. Some were asked to sing songs like "Happy Birthday" repetitively. Others were asked to perform songs on instruments.
"Singing definitely emits more particles than talking," Volckens told CBS Denver's Dillon Thomas.
While the study, entitled "Reducing Bioaerosol Emission and Exposures in the Performing Arts: A Scientific Roadmap for a Safe Return from COVID-19," was intended to focus on the spread of coronavirus in performing arts venues, it also unveiled a larger set of information when it comes to the virus as a whole.
"Adults tend to emit more particles than children," Volckens said. "The reason men tend to emit more particles is because we have bigger lungs."
Volckens said the virus also spreads more easily among those who speak at louder volumes.
"The volume of your voice is an indicator of how much energy you're putting into your voice box. That energy translates to more particles coming out of your body. These are particles that carry the COVID-19 virus and infect other people," Volckens said.
Volckens said indoor venues which are louder are at greatest risk for spread of COVID-19. Loud enclosed locations like bars, sports arenas and concert venues can be susceptible to high levels of spread. Volckens said other events, like a ballet with infrequent loud audience responses, are more safe than a concert with thousands of screaming or singing fans.
Goble said the next phase of the project is looking into what instruments spread COVID-19 more frequently. One takeaway from the study thus far has been the importance of having proper ventilation at indoor arts venues.
While the pandemic proved detrimental to the business model surrounding the performing arts, many venues are now making a return courtesy of masks and vaccinations.
"The performing arts did the right thing by shutting down in 2020, they definitely saved lives. Because we know now, when you sing or talk at a loud volume, you produce more particles," Volckens said.