Effects of surgical masks on aerosol dispersion in professional singing

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022 Sep;32(5):727-734. doi: 10.1038/s41370-021-00385-7. Epub 2021 Oct 5.


Background: In the CoVID-19 pandemic, singing came into focus as a high-risk activity for the infection with airborne viruses and was therefore forbidden by many governmental administrations.

Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of surgical masks regarding the spatial and temporal dispersion of aerosol and droplets during professional singing.

Methods: Ten professional singers performed a passage of the Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ode of Joy" in two experimental setups-each with and without surgical masks. First, they sang with previously inhaled vapor of e-cigarettes. The emitted cloud was recorded by three cameras to measure its dispersion dynamics. Secondly, the naturally expelled larger droplets were illuminated by a laser light sheet and recorded by a high-speed camera.

Results: The exhaled vapor aerosols were decelerated and deflected by the mask and stayed in the singer's near-field around and above their heads. In contrast, without mask, the aerosols spread widely reaching distances up to 1.3 m. The larger droplets were reduced by up to 86% with a surgical mask worn.

Significance: The study shows that surgical masks display an effective tool to reduce the range of aerosol dispersion during singing. In combination with an appropriate aeration strategy for aerosol removal, choir singers could be positioned in a more compact assembly without contaminating neighboring singers all singers.

Keywords: Aerosol dispersion; Airborne virus transmission; Choir singing; SARC-CoV-2 pandemic; Surgical mask.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Masks
  • Pandemics
  • Respiratory Aerosols and Droplets
  • Singing*