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Study: Men More Likely Than Women to Spread COVID-19

November 15, 2021

Men are more likely than women to spread COVID-19 through airborne transmission and singing produces 77 percent more respiratory aerosols than talking, according to new study inspired by a March 2020 choir practice in Washington state that became one of the nation’s first COVID-19 superspreader events.

The Colorado State University study, published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, found that males produce 34 percent more aerosols than females and adults produce 62 percent more aerosols than minors. How loud someone talks or sings also affects airborne transmissions. So, the researchers said, a man might produce more particles in normal conversation than a 12-year-old, but the child singing or yelling might produce at least as many particles as the man.

In the Washington state outbreak, only one person who attended the 2.5-hour practice had COVID-19 symptoms, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Yet 33 of 61 choir members tested positive, with the CDC estimating 20 more probable cases. Three people were hospitalized and two died.

The new study includes results from singing and talking experiments using an aerosol testing chamber. Additional results from people playing instruments await further data analysis and peer review.

The study, Reducing Bioaerosol Emission and Exposures in the Performing Arts: A Scientific Roadmap for a Safe Return from COVID-19, suggests indoor performance venues use monitor carbon dioxide and noise levels as low-cost risk indicators of airborne transmission of COVID, the common cold, seasonal flu and other diseases.

The study reinforces the decision to shut down live performing arts early in the pandemic. It also renews a focus on the effectiveness of masks, which became a symbol of minimizing the risks of airborne transmission of infectious respiratory particles that cause COVID-19. Some Connecticut municipalities have lifted mask mandates in public spaces as the holidays and winter approach, even with the rate of COVID-positive test results and hospitalizations trending upward.

“With the rising numbers, lifting mask mandates at this time may not be prudent and may serve to exacerbate those rising numbers,” says Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s System Director of Infection Disease and Chief Epidemiologist.