COVID-19 Risk Management Guidance

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Risk Mitigation: Obligations and Recommendations

The SA Government COVID-Safe Plan (Oct 2020), that you submit as a mandatory requirement for conducting an ‘indoor public meeting’, outlines your obligations to SA Health and further recommendations you could choose to employ according to your circumstances. Not all the recommendations are necessary in a group singing situation.

Based on the three categories of Physical Space, Ventilation and Hygiene & Cleaning, we have outlined:

  • the mandatory SA Health requirements— i.e. what you must do
  • additional recommendations for group singing—i.e. what you can choose to do depending on your circumstances—including recognising mental health and wellbeing of choristers as an important factor in deciding what to prioritise
  • suggestions for how to go about it
  • the evidence for and against where possible

Density: Obligation

DENSITY: to comply with the mandatory COVID-Safe Plan, an indoor meeting can have a density of 3 persons per 4 square metres – i.e. the total number of people in the space is determined by its size.  The COVID Safe Plan online form calculates this for you. 

At 28 April 2021, any separate room or outdoor area must simply follow the 3 persons per four square metres rule. This can and does change depending on the current advice. Check here for the latest information.

Use the COVID-Safe Plan form to determine the capacity of the venue 

Physical Distancing: Obligation

PHYSICAL DISTANCING: once in that space, people must remain at least 1.5 metres apart with 2m recommended.

Determine the capacity of the venue to accommodate your total number of singers spaced at least 1.5m apart.  This will require measuring and designing a layout.

Singer Spacing: Recommendation

Risk: transmission by close contact 

  • Placing chairs or marking standing positions according to physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres and 2 metres if possible (see Major Finding relating to increased droplet spread for singing). The closer the singers, the greater the risk. 
  • Either placing singers in a single line or increasing distance between lines. Checkerboard spacing maintains physical distancing in all directions around singers.
  • If microphones are used, allocate one per person—i.e. avoid sharing so distance can be maintained

One study examined physical distancing for singers [8] recommending 2- 2.5m to the front and 1.5m to the sides. The study used video photography of e-cigarette emission in laboratory conditions to study aerosol particles sized 250-450nm. Spahn et al interpreted Wang et al’s research on household transmission to mean a physical distance of 2 metres would be needed for musicians (including singers) to account for movement while playing or singing.[9]

Conductor and Accompanist Safety: Recommendation

Risk: conductor in direct line of droplet transmission

  • Consider positioning the conductor to the side of the choir
  • For larger choirs positioning the conductor at least 2m from the first row of larger choirs to minimise their exposure to droplets and aerosol from multiple singers

Traffic flow: Recommendation

Risk: transmission by close contact

  • encourage one way traffic 
  • if you have more than one door, dedicate separate exit and entry
  • consider signage or pathways to assist traffic flow for larger choirs
  • consider a volunteer to greet singers, direct traffic flow and remind them of the communicated protocols
  • for larger choirs, consider before and after rehearsal traffic flow and the amount of time needed to allow for physical distancing when entering and exiting the venue
  • encourage forms of greeting that do not involve physical contact 
  • whilst a COVID-Safe Marshal is not an obligation for indoor meetings, consider appointing a person to monitor people’s safety and compliance with your decisions

Rehearsal Scheduling: Recommendation

Risk: transmission by close contact

  • rehearsing in subgroups—sectionals or smaller group rehearsals reduce the number of singers in a room at one time. Minimise mixing of these groups
  • rehearsing fortnightly instead of weekly to allow more time for contact tracing in the event of positive cases in the community
  • if space is limited, consider rehearsing in subgroups over a two- or three-week cycle (e.g. AB, AC and BC) and coming together in a larger venue less often
  • confirming participation prior to the start to ensure compliance with maximum density and spacing requirements (e.g. via Doodle Poll)
  • virtual rehearsals play a part in the mix of rehearsals, for example, can ‘note-bashing’ be facilitated by a virtual rehearsal
  • enabling virtual attendance for those who are not well enough to attend in person

[8] Echternach, M, Gantner, S, Peters, G, Westphalen, C, Benthaus, T, Jakubass, B, Kuranova, L, Dollinger, M & Kniesburges, S 2020, 'Impulse dispersion of aerosols during singing and speaking.', Medrxiv, doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.21.20158832.

[9] Spahn, C, Richter, B, Schuster, A, Grundmann, H, Hengel, H & Burkle, H 2020, Risk assessment of a coronavirus infection in the field of music., Frieberg.

Ventilation of rehearsal rooms is a crucial control measure for choirs. There was agreement in the literature review that air conditioning could be operated so that aerosol build-up would be minimised. Air conditioning systems that recirculate air have also been noted as contributing to poor ventilation in outbreaks in choir rehearsals.

Gregson et al studied airborne particle emissions from 25 singers. Their study showed that at 50-60dB (quietest) the mass concentration emitted from singing, speaking and breathing were not significantly different. The change in mass concentration for both speaking and singing showed steep increases with increased volume. At 90-100dB (loudest) singing had a slightly but significantly increased mass concentration in comparison to speaking at the same volume (Gregson et al., 2020). Gregson, F., et al, J. 2020. Comparing the respirable aerosol concentrations and particle size distributions generated by singing, speaking and breathing. Chemrxiv.

Air-flow: Recommendation 

Risk: transmission of infected aerosol 

  • Assess the ventilation in the room—is there access to fresh air from directly outside? Open as many doors as possible. Advise people to bring extra warm clothes if necessary.
  • Make changes to increase airflow in the direction from singers to the outflow (ie another open door or window). For example, you could place a fan at the inflow directed past singers and towards another opening.
  • Position singers in relation to airflow 
  • Understand the current air conditioning system and your use of it. This will include maximising air changes per hour and fresh air intake. Does it recirculate air within an enclosed space? Is it necessary to use air conditioning? Consider increasing the intake of outside air to the air conditioning system if possible. 
  • Position conductor and accompanying instruments in relation to aerosol flow to protect them 

Venue Choice: Recommendation

Risk: transmission of infected aerosol 

  • Consider a change of venue if your usual venue is poorly ventilated
  • Whilst singing outdoors presents its own challenges, singing outdoors is recommended to achieve maximum dilution of aerosols. Continue with physical distancing outside.
  • Rehearsing outdoors within a structure providing a sound shell, for example, a verandah might improve an outdoor acoustic and help with listening to each other

Masks: Recommendation

Risk: transmission of infected aerosol 

  • The purpose of masks is to provide a simple barrier to droplet infection. Masks are worn to protect others from infection rather than providing protection to the wearer.
  • Masks are not particularly recommended for singers in South Australia at this time and it is uncertain whether masks will be a useful adjunct to risk mitigation strategies for choirs in the future. 
  • Masks slightly muffle the sound from the singer. It can be useful to adopt an approach of ‘singing beyond the mask’ and over-emphasizing consonants. If using masks, conductors can give thought to what point in the rehearsal process masks are not useful to shaping the final performance sound.
  • Masks are worth considering if it makes a difference to whether your singers feel comfortable resuming singing or not. Experimenting with different mask designs and practicing singing with the mask at home might help.

Rehearsal length: Recommendation

Risk: exposure to aerosols

  • Shorten rehearsals times – a two hour limit is recommended
  • Allow time for designated people to clean the venue before and after 
  • Cancel breaks in favour of shorter rehearsal times to reduce exposure
  • Having rehearsal breaks outside while still maintaining physical distancing and good hygiene

Both your COVID-Safe Plan and that of your venue outline recommendations for cleaning and hygiene which are listed in full in the Appendix. Your venue may stipulate particular additional measures that you must follow as a requirement of hiring the venue.

It is recommended that SA Health general cleaning protocols are followed both before people arrive and after they leave.

Cleaning: Recommendation 

Risk: transmission via objects or surfaces

  • check the current cleaning protocols before and after your use of the venue and how these may need to be changed—consider what this may cost 
  • your venue may have a new cleaning regime in place that affects your use

Equipment: Recommendation

Risk: transmission via objects or surfaces

  • clean chairs, music stands and microphones after each use (consider providing sanitised wipes for each person to clean their own chair)  
  • clean music stands before and after use or request that singers bring their own
  • use volunteers with sanitised hands to stack chairs
  • consider whether equipment such as risers or chairs are needed and whether you can do without
  • disinfect microphones before and after use

Accompanying Instruments: Recommendation 

Risk: transmission via surfaces

  • disinfect piano/keyboard keys before and after use and between changes of player
  • use of hand sanitiser by the accompanist directly before playing
  • determine the appropriate cleaning method for pianos and keyboards. Care should be taken with chemicals such as alcohol and excessive water running down the side of keys. Yamaha have useful information regarding keyboard cleaning on their website.

Music scores: Recommendation

Risk: transmission via objects

  • minimise the number of people distributing music (with sanitised hands) to maximise physical distancing and minimise multiple contacts with music
  • physical distancing of 1.5m near stations were music is distributed. 
  • avoid passing music from person to person
  • no sharing or borrowing of music scores during the session
  • introduce electronic music scores
  • consider your usual practice regarding taking music home or leaving behind

In a laboratory setting SARS-CoV-2 survived on surfaces up to 72 hours with concentrations of virus reducing over time. SARS-CoV-2 has been found to remain more stable on plastic and stainless steel than porous materials such as cotton. Notably no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured on cardboard after 24 hours in one study , which may have some application to how long musical scores might remain infectious. 

Personal Items: Recommendation

Risk: transmission via objects

  • avoid the sharing of food and drink—remind people to bring their own
  • avoid sharing of any personal items—pencils, water bottles or any other items – encourage everyone to bring their own
  • encourage singers to bring minimal personal items to rehearsals and keep them within their own personal space during the rehearsal

Hand Hygiene: Recommendation

Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infections. 

It is recommended that choirs actively promote good hand hygiene. When soap and water are not readily available, provide hand sanitisers with at least 60% alcohol content for use on arrival and exit. Hands should be washed: 

  • after sneezing, coughing, blowing nose
  • after going to the toilet or changing a nappy,
  • before and after handling food

More info on hand hygiene: Australian Government Cleaning & Disinfection Principles for COVID-19

Attendance records: Obligation 

Risk: ability to assist with mandatory contact tracing

Attendance Records are a mandatory part of your COVID-Safe Plan.  You need to keep and maintain good attendance records to assist with possible future contact tracing. Choose a sign-in and sign-out process that avoids introducing potential transmission behaviours:

  • download and print a contact tracing record and ensure each person signs in on entry.  Avoid shared use of pens—provide single use pens, encourage use of own pens or clean pens between uses 
  • use of an electronic attendance record such as Doodle Poll via email prior, that is checked on arrival

Sickness: Obligation

Any person who is unwell or has symptoms of COVID-19 (even if symptoms are mild) must stay home and should get tested for COVID-19. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath or loss of taste and smell. 

Risk: high risk of transmission

Direction about sickness, testing for COVID and action after COVID test results should be clearly communicated to everyone. As a minimum, your protocol should state that if an individual is tested for COVID-19, the SA Health protocol is to:

  • go straight home after the test and self-isolate 
  • if the test is negative, remain in self isolation until you are well 
  • if the test is positive test, follow the medical advice and continue to self-isolate

More information: Testing for COVID-19

Before COVID-19, we could only speculate on what life would be like without choir.  

Knowing we had a once-in-a-lifetime window, the Adelaide Choral Network put a single survey question to the network during July 2020:

“Now that you’ve have time to reflect on what life is like without choir, what do you miss?”.  

Results overwhelmingly revealed how important singing in choirs is to people’s physical, social and mental wellbeing.  

This single expression powerfully reflects the feeling of the greater network:

“Singing fills me with joy and positivity. Without singing, I am much less. I miss the physical ‘workout’ of choir – it helps keep your brain and your body fit”.

You can find the responses to our survey here

Of course there is much more rigorous research available that links group singing to social connectedness, mental health and wellbeing.  

As you deliberate the measures you take to mitigate against the risks of transmission, take some time weigh up the risks of NOT singing. 

Inclusive Practice: Recommendation

  • plan remote listening/singing through electronic platforms for members unable to attend
  • making video/audio recording of rehearsals available later online for those who cannot or choose not to attend in person
  • actively promote tolerance for the range of individual assessments of personal risk 
  • support those who have had COVID-19 or another illness to return to rehearsals when it is medically safe to do so
  • actively support members experiencing difficulties with transport to attend rehearsals
  • work innovatively to safely maintain supports to members who have disability or non-COVID-19 health needs and wish to attend rehearsals

Wellbeing of individuals: Recommendation

  • re-consider mandatory rehearsal attendance and how a mix of online and physical attendance might be sufficient
  • enabling singers to choose their own path to resuming singing and respecting that decision
  • communicate your decisions clearly to your singers and make reminder announcements at the beginning of each rehearsal if necessary
  • keep personal health information about individuals private and communicate privately with them about any health related concerns

Social Benefits: Recommendation 

  • plan social activities that comply with physical distancing and good hygiene
  • connect with members through virtual support networks 
  • encourage awareness of the Wellbeing SA COVID-19 mental health resources including the SA Government's wellbeing program, Open Your World

Instrumentalists: Recommendation

This guidance does not specifically address the needs of instrumental players. However, singers often rehearse and perform with instrumental players or both sing and play instruments. 

It is worth noting that concerns similar to the risk of transmission between singers have been theorised about wind instruments, in particular the flute family of instruments [11]. String instruments are not considered to pose any additional risks above those of social proximity.

  • plan so that physical distancing of 1.5m between singers and instrumentalists is adhered to
  • no sharing or borrowing of instruments, music stands or music during the session
  • consider the same measures as you have put in place for conductors and accompanists for any instrumentalists in regard to distance from singers

Travel: Obligation

Follow the current travel advice regarding travel to other states. 

Religious and Faith-Based Settings: Recommendation

Our evidence shows that congregational singing should be possible observing certain control measures.

SA Health has provided the following advice.

‘Singing increases the distance that droplets from the mouth can travel and spread, so spacing people more than 1.5 metres apart is advised when singing.

Avoid singing together as a congregation. Consider designating one person, or a very small group of people who can maintain physical distancing, to sing at gatherings.’

More information: Current Fact Sheet for Religious and Faith communities 

 

[11]  Spahn, C, Richter, B, Schuster, A, Grundmann, H, Hengel, H & Burkle, H 2020, Risk assessment of a coronavirus infection in the field of music., Frieberg, https://www.mh-freiburg.de/en/university/covid-19-corona/risk-assessment/.

Produced by the Adelaide Choral Network with financial assistance from Arts South Australia and the City of Adelaide, our Adelaide Year of the Choir Partner

Disclaimer

The content of "How Can We Keep From Singing: COVID-19 Risk Management Guidance for South Australian Group Singing" is provided for information purposes only. While care has been taken that the material contained is accurate and up-to-date at the time of publication, the information is provided on the basis that all persons having access to this Guidance will assume responsibility for assessing the relevance, completeness, currency and accuracy of its content and for the application of any information to their own particular circumstances. The subject matter of the report is in a dynamic field of rapidly changing conditions and increasing knowledge. Adelaide Choral Network disclaim any liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on any information contained in it (or any use of such information) which is provided in this Guidance or incorporated into it by reference.

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