New research: Playing wind instruments can spread respiratory particles

Just like coughing, sneezing, talking and singing, playing wind instruments — especially brass instruments — can spread respiratory particles that can carry the virus that causes Covid-19, according to a study from Colorado State University (CSU ).

Early in the pandemic, CSU engineers led by Professor John Volckens teamed up with musicians and performers to try to quantify respiratory particle emissions from various activities like singing and music, the CSU said. in a press release. The researchers have now published the results of their measurements of particulate emissions from playing wind instruments, including brass and woodwind instruments, in the journal Scientific Reports.

They used a state-of-the-art aerosol measurement chamber and recruited volunteers to perform in the chamber while aerosol emissions from themselves – or their instruments – were analyzed. For the study of instruments, they had 81 volunteer performers who played woodwind instruments including bassoon, clarinet, French horn, oboe, piccolo, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and tuba.

Brass instruments, on average, produced 191% more aerosols than woodwinds, according to the release. According to the researchers, being male was associated with a 70% increase in emissions from playing instruments, likely due to lung size and capacity. Louder brass playing was associated with higher particle counts, but louder woodwind playing did not increase emissions.

The researchers also took action with performers using bells to try to dampen the spread of the particles, which seemed to work. Bell use covers emission reductions for trombone, tuba and trumpet players, with average reductions of 53-73%, but not for oboe or clarinet.

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Volckens compared bell covers to blue surgical instrument masks — good, but not great at limiting the spread. “The data suggests that masks and bells reduce particles leaving the mouth or instrument by half to 75%. And the reason blue surgical masks or bell covers don’t work better is that they just don’t fit well. These devices do not achieve an N95 level of protection,” he said in the statement. He quoted him as saying that “if we could make N95s for the instruments” that would probably help reduce the emissions from the brass, but not the woodwinds, because those instruments have too many exhaust holes before the bell. A single-output instrument like a trumpet is easier to control with protective measures.

According to the release, the study confirms that at the start of the pandemic, shutting down the performing arts in the name of safety likely saved lives.

Source: Colorado State University

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