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Are We Allowed to Sing? – a Music Therapist’s Perspective During Coronavirus

Singing has been classified as a high-risk activity during COVID-19.  What does this mean for the music therapists and the clients we serve?  Are we allowed to sing?

What do we know as of June 1, 2020

  • Large droplets and aerosols can be transmitted via touch and inhalation – NYT 3D simulation shows the importance of social distancing

  • National Association of Teachers of Singing webinar about near term future of singing

    • Singing emits 6x more droplets and aerosols than talking

    • Stresses the importance of proper ventilation of the enclosed space

  • Alberta government’s stance on singing during COVID-19:

    • Singing is a high-risk activity because infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets.

    • Congregational singing is not allowed. Consider a soloist or instrumental music instead.

    • Gatherings that include singing – soloists or in small groups – should take the following precautions: limit the number of people singing in the same place to the fewest possible, and have people sing facing away from others or otherwise creating separation using a barrier such as Plexiglas.
    • There is no evidence to determine exactly what a safe distance would be between singers and others, but greater distances can reduce risk.

It has been clarified that the above is specific to large group and congregational singing and not to music therapy when following specific protocols.  There are things we can do.

What we can do!

  • Communicate with our clients and the sites that we serve. Depending on the interpretation of these regulations, protocols may be different across various facilities.

  • Keep in mind what we can control (our mindset, being okay with changes) and what we cannot control (Federal and provincial orders, facility protocols, our clients); honour your own thoughts and feelings about singing and returning to work

  • Maintain close communication with staff and follow all facility protocols.  Please read more about our steps to Return To Work Safely.

  • Maintain good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

  • Wear a mask and avoid touching your face or mask

  • Wear clothing that can be cleaned in a washer and dryer, not anything that has to be dry-cleaned or hand washed

  • Maintain physical distancing or have a barrier 

What does that mean for music therapists?

  • The safety and well-being of both ourselves and our clients are of utmost importance

  • Music therapists are considered a non-restricted healthcare service in Alberta’s Phase 1 of Relaunch Plan; 1) we work in continuing care, 2) we provide services to private seniors’ residences, 3) we provide home services for seniors, the disabled, and the vulnerable, 4) we provide mental health and addictions counselling and support.

  • Decide between providing online music therapy or holding in-person sessions

  • Avoid sharing instruments, and if they are necessary, ensure the appropriate cleaning and sanitization between sessions

  • If no singing is allowed, consider other appropriate interventions such as creating meaningful interactions, music listening, or verbal counselling. 

In our current climate, policies and procedures are changing rapidly. It is our professional responsibility to keep updated with the guidelines that are set out by the government, federally and provincially, as well as the protocols set out by each of the sites that we visit. However, depending on the site, there may be room for flexibility and advocacy.

Keep in mind that there is no simple solution. We have to consider our personal and professional contexts and needs to make an informed decision on a case-by-case basis. 

by Elaine Cheung, MMT, MTA