Are marching bands high risk for coronavirus? Members of North Royalton High School band quarantined
NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio — Questions have been raised after North Royalton High School band member showed signs of COVID: Can the virus spread as musicians play instruments?
Last week the band’s 80 members — including field commanders, band front performers, everyone in the drumline and all senior musicians — were told to quarantine for two weeks. But contact tracing on Tuesday allowed the district to reduce the number of members forced to quarantine.
Does the coronavirus spread more easily in a band that in other extracurricular activities?
It’s a timely question during high school football season. But many medical experts have had trouble trying to answer the question, and little research has been done on the topic.
Marching band competitions have been shut down in dozens of states because of the coronavirus, according to Education Week.
Oliver Boone, executive director of the High School Band Directors National Association, says it depends on if students are playing inside or outside.
The association released a 39-page official recommendation for music educators on their website in July.
If inside, using social distancing and plexiglass is a recommended method to avoid the spread of the virus. Boone also noted that the latest research shows that it’s best to avoid staying in an exposed area for 15 minutes. “You cannot be in one exposed area for 15 minutes, but if you’re outside, the factors are much different,” he said.
Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studied aerosols created by instruments. Preliminary results showed that aerosol concentrations were higher for instruments that had straight shapes from mouthpiece to bell, like the trumpet and clarinet. Wearing masks and covering the instruments’ bells with nylon all reduced particle concentrations.
Ryan V. Scherber, the assistant professor of music education and band director for Case Western Reserve University, says recommendations from the study include special “musician masks” that are well-fitted and incorporate a small slit for the mouthpiece or reed, covers over the bells of all instruments, performance distance of at least 6 feet, and special trays to collect any condensation produced by brass instruments.
Additionally, indoor rehearsal spaces should have an HVAC system capable of at least three air changes per hour, and wind instrument playing is only currently recommended to occur indoors for 30 minutes, with the room completely empty for at least 20 minutes before the next rehearsal for complete air exchange. Outdoor rehearsals are also currently recommended to occur in 30-minute segments with a five-minute pause between them to allow the aerosols to disburse.
“My colleagues and I at CWRU have been closely following this study, guidelines provided by the CDC, and we are working with University medical professionals to implement current recommendations for the health and safety of our students and colleagues as we embark on artistic endeavors,” Scherber added.
The National Federation of State High School Association’s music committee recommends that bands rehearse outside only, with members spaced at a minimum of 3 step intervals for all formations. Students should wear masks unless they are playing, and instruments, equipment, and sheet music should not be shared without proper cleaning and disinfecting, including drumsticks and color guard equipment.
The Boulder study recommended that trombones should have an additional 3 feet of distance from other band members.
North Royalton Superintendent Greg Gurka wrote in a letter to the district. “We appreciate our families being patient with us as we went through the contact tracing process. The health and safety of our students, staff, and community remain our top priority.”
Dr. Claudia Hoyen, co-director of Infection Control at University Hospitals, recommends that people stay at least 6 feet from others and make sure the equipment they use to perform is sanitized.
Hoyen also suggests that school districts work closely with their public health department and focus on keeping open communication with students and parents about their behaviors inside and outside school.