Quebec on Friday announced it’s set to ban karaoke across the province after a Quebec City singing bar was linked to dozens of coronavirus infections last week.
The province said in a press release that karaoke has several risk factors during the pandemic, including: “the projection of respiratory droplets when people sing, the proximity between the participants and the sharing of common objects, in particular microphones.”
For months, Canadian health officials have warned about the dangers of going to indoor bars as they are typically crowded and after a few drinks, people tend to let their guard down and remove their masks.
“A risk factor in terms of getting together in a bar … is alcohol. And after one or two drinks, people might feel less inhibited,” deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said on July 14.
More evidence is showing that the risk of contracting the coronavirus indoors is higher, and hanging out at a crowded bar with loud talking will help spread the virus, Njoo warned.
Although indoor bars are risky during the pandemic, karaoke adds another level of danger because of the act of singing, according to Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health,
“Certain words being produced, using ‘sh,’ ‘ch’ or guttural sounds, they increase the amount of the airborne virus. And singing does as well. The louder the singing and shouting the more it can get into the atmosphere,” he said.
He pointed to an example in Washington state in March, when a choir practice caused dozens of people to be infected with the coronavirus.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among 61 persons who attended the March 10 choir practice, only one person was known to be symptomatic. After the choir practice, 53 cases of the virus were later identified. Three people were hospitalized and two died.
“The 2.5-hour singing practice provided several opportunities for droplet and fomite transmission, including members sitting close to one another, sharing snacks, and stacking chairs at the end of the practice. The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through the emission of aerosols, which is affected by the loudness of vocalization,” the CDC stated on its website.
Keeping bars open is ‘reckless’
Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said indoor singing is a high-risk activity during COVID-19.
“In the case of karaoke, those droplets have an audience,” Furness said. “While the use of masks, air filtration, and plexiglass barriers could all be deployed to mitigate danger, I wouldn’t trust participants to be compliant because it’s a festive atmosphere with alcohol. This should not be permitted.”
As Canada heads into flu season, Furness said it seems “reckless” to let bars stay open — with or without karaoke. He stressed that Canada should not be permitting indoor gatherings without masks at all.
And some provinces don’t allow it.
As part of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 reopening plan, the provinces have banned karaoke.
According to Saskatchewan’s reopening plan, “dance floors and karaoke are not currently permitted.” B.C.’s Ministry of Health states that “patrons must not sing, engage in karaoke or dance on the premises. And Alberta’s “relaunch strategy” states that “recreational activities or entertainment within bars, cafes or pubs are not allowed at this time. This includes dancing or karaoke.”
Karaoke is still allowed in provinces such as Manitoba and Ontario.
Although Ontario has banned private karaoke bars under its latest reopening plan, it is still allowed in restaurant and bars with “restrictions including barriers, physical distancing and increased cleaning and disinfecting.”
P.E.I. said karaoke is not allowed, but the province’s website states that “singing is permitted, at a distance of 3.5 metres apart from one another and everyone else unless a non-medical mask is worn. Music volume should be kept low so individuals at tables do not have to yell at each other to be heard over the sound.”
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the school of health sciences at the University of Ottawa, said because singing causes people to transmit droplets and aerosol particles at a higher rate, one- to two-metre distancing may not be enough to reduce transmission.
“Singing through a mask would reduce the distance travelled by droplets. But no one will sing through a mask. Some places have erected plexiglass barriers, and that prevents droplets from an incident on your face. But there is no truly great way of reducing aerosol transmission other than not being there.,” he said.
Like Furness, Deonandan believes all provinces should ban karaoke.
“Now is not the time to be playing with potential super-spreading environments. We’re in a delicate time when schools are opening, people are going inside, humidity is dropping, and cold and flu season is starting,” he said.