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Playing It Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 Safety Guide

Oboe Bell Cover

With the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, many music institutions are looking towards the possibility of resuming practices, concerts, and other events. As they begin to gather again, you are likely wondering how to safely participate, and minimize the risk of spreading COVID or other viruses while you play. New research on the aerosols produced by wind instruments and singers has helped to identify and mitigate the associated risks.

A three-part study done over a period of six months provides the most comprehensive information. The International Coalition of Performing Arts Aerosol Study was led by the National Federation of State High School Associations and the College Band Directors National Association. Conducted by independent labs at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Maryland, the study was funded by numerous music institutions.

Study Recommendations

The study’s recommendations coincide directly with social distancing recommendations. While the instructions list was written by order of importance, they are intended to be utilized together to cumulatively reduce the risk of transmission, enabling you to take steps to protect yourself and those around you.

1) Masking faces and bells

2) Six foot distancing

3) Good ventilation

4) 30 minute time limit plus time between groups

5) Proper hygiene.

Recommendation #1 - Bell Covers and Face Masks

Bassoon Bell Cover

While this study was geared toward rehearsals and concerts, it can be applied to private lessons as well. The most important precaution is the bell cover. The bell cover shows to reduce aerosol emission in double reed instruments between 89-96%. Instrument bags were deemed unnecessary as the aerosols emitted through the tone holes are minimal. With just bell covers, the risk of an infectious musician in a room spreading the virus is reduced by 64%. Musician face masks that cover the nose and mouth, especially while not playing, are a critical part of reducing that further.

What Kind of Bell Cover Should I Get?

While the study found that a tri-layer cover, including a MERV-13 filtering material, mitigates the aerosols effectively, it does cause a significant negative impact on sound quality.

Bell Barrier offers a single-layer cover constructed of polypropylene fabric, which catches all large droplets and blocks most aerosols. According to the manufacturer’s research, escaping aerosols travel less than a foot based on the speed they exit the bell. The cover is 98% acoustically transparent, making it the best option from a sound perspective.

One concern about the standard Bell Barrier covers is that some schools require a MERV-13 level cover. A double-layer cover is available to meet this requirement, but it will further reduce sound quality, and the manufacturer believes it unnecessary.

What is a Musician Face Mask?

Musician Face Mask Musician Face Mask

Musician masks are specially designed to accommodate access to a reed or mouthpiece. Double reed instruments work best with a veil-style mask, which has an opening to access the reed, but also a second layer to cover the mouth and nose fully, even while playing. Non-double reed players are likely to use slit-style masks which consist of two overlapping layers, and flutists use a special one that allows the head joint to be inserted inside the mask.

While the veil masks have their benefits, they also have some inherent difficulties. Because the veil severely limits visibility below the nose, it is important to use an outstretched tongue as a guide, drawing the reed to the mouth. Leaving the reed in place when you are not playing can help avoid struggling with it when it’s time to play again. These precautions can also help prevent unintentional damage to the reed from hitting the teeth or chin.

Musician Face Mask Musician Face Mask

A regular mask should always be layered over a musician mask when finished playing.

What is NOT Recommended?

Due to their ineffectiveness at containing or protecting against aerosol particulate, face shields are not recommended. Also, Plexiglass partitions between musicians can actually create pockets of aerosol build-up by blocking the designed flow of air from the HVAC system.

Recommendations #2-4: Space and Time

Outdoor practice and concerts provide the best ventilation and safest venues. Indoor spaces should have good HVAC air exchange systems, and if that is not possible, open windows and continuous airflow are essential. Six-foot distancing should be observed regardless of location. Interior spaces should limit playing periods to thirty minutes, followed by a full air exchange by the HVAC system, usually about an hour. Outdoor sessions only require a five-minute break between playing periods. In a single-player lesson, the time period of play may be extended, but the full hour break should be observed between students playing indoors.

Recommendation #5: Good Hygiene

Handwashing between your students and hand sanitizing after touching another musician’s instrument, accessories, or belongings is highly recommended.

What About Trying Your Student’s Reeds?

Testing or sharing reeds is absolutely not recommended. To learn about what we know (and don’t know) about sanitizing your reeds and using reeds made by others, read our blog, COVID-19 Reed Sanitizing. These recommendations provide a layered risk reduction. The more strategies that are utilized, the lower the risk. While they all have value in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 and other illnesses, the most important guidelines to follow are those for the bell covers, masks, and social distancing. To read the full report, click on the International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study.

We hope this guide has prepared you for a return to in-person playing. Understanding the risks, and utilizing the strategies to minimize them will help to facilitate a safe return to the playing and teaching we all love.


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