August 30th, 2021

Dear Friends:

One of the questions we get asked the most is, "Can our congregation safely resume singing?" We'll get to that question, but to do so, we have to put the answer in the proper context.

Epidemiologists and other medical experts often say the COVID-19 delta variant is a game changer, but it can be difficult to understand. Here's the problem in a nutshell: Delta might be 60% more infectious than the original strain. That doesn't sound like a lot until you follow the math through:
You can see why wearing a mask is so important. In case that doesn't convince you, look at this illustration of estimates of what would happen if the disease were left completely unchecked. After ten rounds of transmission, the alpha variant would infect about 9,500 people. The delta variant would sicken 60,000,000.
Click on the image to get a sense of how terrifying the difference really is.

Okay one more (compound) image to look at:
Of course, vaccination is the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID and prevent the deaths that occur from it. But these charts from an article in Nature tell us that mask-wearing is much more effective at preventing death from COVID than social distancing, and both are more effective when practiced together. In fact, as you can see in chart E, even if the vast majority of people social distance, it doesn't do much good without masking.

The masks most of us wear are generally loose-fitting: they don't fit snugly around the sides and bottom. That's fine for stopping the droplets we expel when we sneeze or cough, which is how COVID has been thought to spread. But there's emerging evidence that it's in fact transmitted through "aerosolized particles," tiny bits carried in the air when we breathe. This is how diseases like the common cold or flu spread, and why it's safer to be outdoors: without a constant circulation of air, these particles can linger in a room for hours. It's also why medical personnel wear N95 or similar masks, which can be sealed tightly around the face, leaving no gaps where the COVID particles can be breathed in—or out.

Professional singers also use special masks designed to allow enough room for them to be heard, while not spreading aerosolized particles. Large groups, such as orchestras and choruses, are also moving toward requiring vaccination for all performers, or so we're told. They certainly perform in spaces with much greater physical separation and much better ventilation than the average church building.

To finally answer the question we started out with, let's put all of this together. We don't have a lot of direct data on the relative safety of, say, humming versus singing, but we do know that:

  • We're in the midst of a much more contagious outbreak than the start of the pandemic, with a variant that can be transmitted even by vaccinated people

  • Social distancing is important, but masking is critical, not just to prevent the spread of the disease, but to prevent deaths from it

  • Ordinary masks are better than nothing, but to be truly effective requires high-quality, specialized masks and advantages that are not always easily obtained, such as high-performance air circulation systems.

Maintaining physical separation for anyone who attends a church service and requiring choir members to be vaccinated and to wear tight-fitting masks will help. But given what we know about how COVID works and how infectious the delta variant is, it seems clear that it's easy to spread with potentially very severe consequences. Singing together is one of the church's most beloved activities. It is also a highly risky endeavor at the moment. We strongly recommend proceeding with extreme caution, if at all.

Sincerely yours,
Rev. Daniel Schultz
WCC Community Health Program Director
Upcoming Clinics

  • 8/30: Christ the King ELCA, Combined Locks
  • 9/2: Ascension Fellowship, Milwaukee
  • 9/2: Albany UMC, Albany
  • 9/4: Mt. Zion Assembly of Healing, Milwaukee
The Vaccine Community Outreach Program Staff
Daniel Schultz
Program Director
Eyon Biddle
Milwaukee Field Coordinator
Angelica Espinoza
Outstate Field Coordinator
Angela Hicks
Small Metro Field Coordinator
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