Wind playing and contagious diseases

I’m not a (medical) doctor or disease expert of any kind, but I’ve been thinking a bit about the instruments I play and the risks of catching or spreading disease. (At the time of this writing, Covid-19 is foremost in many people’s minds.) I’m presenting a few thoughts here in hopes that people with real expertise will be able to address them in an authoritative way, and I’ll update this post as appropriate with links to additional information if/when it becomes available.

Relevant resources (updated as of May 4, 2020):

As a player of reed instruments, I am of course concerned about reeds and mouthpieces (and related items like mouthpiece caps and reed cases, tools, and workspaces), and would like to implement some more structured, methodical ways of keeping them clean.

But the thing that worries me more is what is in the air when I am playing wind instruments, or near people who are. Some research/modeling (the accuracy/relevance of which I am unqualified to judge) seems to suggest that “aerosol particles” from a cough can travel far and remain in the air for a long time:

I can only speculate on how this relates to playing wind instruments, but it does leave me feeling uneasy. Some concerns that spring to mind:

  • If I am teaching lessons, even in my relatively spacious university studio, are my students and I both filling the air with potentially infectious particles, by blowing large amounts of well-supported air over sustained periods of time?
  • What surfaces in my studio are receiving these particles, and how long can germs survive there? Should I be altering my routine of teaching lessons all morning, then eating lunch at my desk? Do I need a routine for cleaning music stands, metronomes, and other items that are in the line of “fire?” Should I be concerned about what is settling on the bassoon reeds drying on pegs in a corner of the office?
  • When I or my students perform (especially in ensembles), how close are we to other people? I’ve certainly played orchestral gigs where there’s hardly enough elbow room to swab out a clarinet. What is being put into the air or onto surfaces when the entire wind section starts to play?

Contagious diseases certainly aren’t new, and I think some basic courtesies and hygiene will continue to be adequate to keep ordinary disease risks in check. But at the time of this writing we find ourselves in an age when we are more attuned to physical (“social”) distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing, and when we receive somber daily tallies of those affected by a public health crisis we don’t yet fully understand.

Let’s all be listening to experts and thinking about how we can continue to share music with our students, teachers, collaborators, and audiences, safely and in good health. Stay well.

2 thoughts on “Wind playing and contagious diseases

  1. Thank you for this discussion and the links. I’ve been wondering about this topic for a while, and you are the first source of real information (to the extent that any real information is known) that I’ve seen. Those of us who play in small or large ensembles would love to go back to rehearsals, but I’m not seeing that as being safe any time soon. Please keep the news coming!

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