I am looking forward to seeing your children in person this fall. As I write this (July 13, 2021), the newscast playing in the background is saying Covid cases are rising significantly in the US as a result of the Delta variant, and the rate of vaccinations has slowed. When I go out of my home into the public, few people are wearing masks. Sometimes, interacting with strangers in public, it’s hard for me to remember that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic! It is important for us to stay vigilant.
We know that singing is a particularly efficient way to pass the coronavirus from person to person. This is because when we breathe well, we use a lot of the air in our lungs. As our lungs empty, the alveoli collapse. When they refill with air, the damp sides of the alveoli pull away from each other and create tiny particles of aerosol. These particles are so small that they can stay aloft in the air, and they are carried with the strong breath we send out when we sing. They then move easily into the air that everyone in the room breathes. (Listen to the April 18, 2021 episode of The Daily podcast (NYT) entitled “The Sunday Read: ‘Voices Carry’” for a better description of this and to hear the story of the Skagit Valley choir, an early covid super-spreader event.)
I’m no scientist (and am quite sure the picture of this process that’s in my imagination is quite oversimplified), but I am deeply concerned about keeping the singers and staff who are involved with Sisters’ Voices safe. I am moving toward the coming season with plans for us to be together and singing in my home where we will have control over cleanliness, foot traffic, and, most importantly, ventilation.
I have had an environmental engineer who specializes in aerosols visit my home and consider with me the safest ways to sing there. She made several recommendations –
First, that as much as possible we keep windows open in our rehearsal space and keep the house’s central exhaust fan running, drawing air out through the attic. This fan will pull in fresh air from outdoors and completely replace the air in the space every few minutes. She gave me a CO2 monitor that measures CO2 in the space – this doesn’t tell us about the virus in the air, but it does tell us how much the indoor air is affected by the breath of the people there. We can monitor the space to keep that number close to outdoor air and adjust our ventilation (or move outdoors) when the amount of CO2 in the air goes up.
She also suggested that when we can’t ventilate with outdoor air, as in the middle of winter when it’s too cold outside, we use an air purifier with a HEPA filter to circulate the air and filter out things as small as viruses.
Her third recommendation was to install HEPA filters in my home HVAC system. When I brought in the people who maintain my system, it was not clear that my system can handle HEPA level filters, but I will continue to explore this possibility.
These are the things we are doing:
– Ventilating the space well
– Filtering indoor air when outdoor ventilation is very uncomfortable
– Holding rehearsals and activities outdoors when feasible and/or necessary
– Moving to Zoom when covid numbers in the community present unsafe circumstances for gathering
– Distancing (in line with CDC recommendations) when not singing and adding extra space when singing
– Requiring masks of all participants until we have all been vaccinated. We will communicate with parents before moving to unmasked rehearsals, and we will not contact parents about this until vaccines are available for everyone in the ensemble. That means if all middle school participants have been vaccinated at the start of the season, we will begin a conversation with parents about the safety of singing together unmasked. It is not ideal to sing with masks on, but it is worth our safety.
What we ask of parents and singers:
– If you are sick, please stay home. I will work with you to get you caught up with what you missed. If you are a member of SV-Three or SV-Four, we have built in some flexibility this year to hopefully give you the possibility of making up some rehearsal time if you miss a day.
– Please come to rehearsals in a well-fitting mask and keep it on as long as you are in rehearsal.
– Please use the bathroom before coming to reduce the need for shared surface contact (although there will be a bathroom available that you’ll be very welcome to use, and we’ll wipe it down between rehearsals).
– Please follow instructions in rehearsals about keeping distance and keeping your rehearsal supplies in your own space.
We will update this post as needed this year. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns about this, or anything! I’m looking forward to getting started with the girls again and to hearing their voices in all sorts of contexts! Thank you so much for your support.