Do wind instruments disperse COVID aerosol droplets?

Visualization of the flow emanating from a tuba using the laser sheet technique. The image shows a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Carol Jantsch, principal tubist, who participated in the study of the dispersion of aerosols by wind musical instruments. Credit: Paulo E. Arratia

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many live music events and festivals have been postponed and even canceled to protect musicians and audience members. When they started performing again, many bands resorted to performances with distant or limited crowds. They also adapt their repertoire to favor string pieces and considerably modify the number of musicians and their positions in the auditorium.

Orchestral ensembles faced a particular challenge. Contamination is a major concern: in particular, if wind instruments are vectors of contamination by dispersion of aerosols.

In Fluid physicsresearchers from the University of Pennsylvania worked with musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra to further our understanding of the amount of aerosol produced and dispersed by wind instruments.

“Ideally, musicians would sit next to each other to compose the best sound, but such an arrangement has become an issue during the COVID pandemic,” said author Paulo Arratia, of the University of Pennsylvania.

The researchers used visualization to characterize the flow, then tracked the fog particles in the air with a laser. They also measured the aerosol concentration of wind instruments with a particle counter.

Next, they combined these two measurements to develop a simple equation to describe aerosol scatter, in which aerosol velocity decreases with distance from the instrument. The idea is to help other researchers determine the distance traveled by aerosols by measuring the speed of the outflow. This indicates how fast the flow will decrease.

Aerosols emitted from wind instruments shared a similar concentration and size distribution to normal speech and breathing events.

“We were surprised that the amount of aerosol produced was in the same range as normal speech,” Arratia said. “I expected much higher flow rates and aerosol concentrations.”

Flow measurements (using particle image velocimetry) have shown that outflow jet velocities are much lower than cough and sneeze events. For most instruments, the maximum decay length is less than 2 meters from the opening of the instrument. Therefore, wind musicians should stay 6 feet apart, as the recommendation for individuals.

Researchers will then look at aerosol scatter contamination from a group perspective to understand the amount of aerosols and fluxes produced by the entire orchestra playing together.

“I hope this manuscript will guide health officials in developing protocols for safe, live music events,” Arratia said.

Make music and the flow of aerosols

More information:
Quentin Brosseau et al, Flow rate and dispersion of aerosols from musical wind instruments, Fluid physics (2022). DOI: 10.1063/5.0098273

Provided by the American Institute of Physics

Quote: Do wind instruments disperse COVID aerosol droplets? (2022, Aug 16) retrieved Aug 17, 2022 from

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