Please Note: SLNA is a peer-led voluntary organisation, we are not heath care or legal professionals. We continually refer to the latest information from authoritative sources such as the NZ Government Covid-19 website,and Ministry of Health.

Covid-19 risk assessments to enable community singing.
Article updated: 7th October 2020

As a Network our aim is to share knowledge and ideas with our membership, and this article sets out to look at the subject of risks associated with Covid-19 and community singing.   
Some of our members have been working on preparing risk analysis and risk mitigation plans for their singing groups. These plans are designed to be flexible in dealing with changing alert levels, and their purpose is to enable the continuation of meeting to sing together for as long as possible.
So, what is a risk analysis and risk mitigation plan?
Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Well basically it is just a covid safety plan for your choir.
Risk analysis helps you work out the risks that might make singing together unsafe, and the mitigation plan helps you put into action some agreed steps so you can…

Like everything worth doing in life there will always be some risk, but a well communicated plan ensures everyone knows what’s what and can make their own decision about what they need to feel safe.

When should we just stop singing together?

At alert Levels 3 and 4 the current advice from NZ Govt means we should not sing together.
When can we sing together?
At alert levels 2 and 1 there’s no legal restriction on meeting together in groups of less than 100. However, research indicates that singing together poses a considerable risk of viral transmission which can have severe consequences, especially to the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. We’ll list links to more information about this at the end.
Even at alert level 1 we should not become complacent. Some steps to minimise risk to singers might still be needed, and we should be prepared to move back to higher alert levels. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst” as they say.
This is where a risk analysis can really be valuable because it can help you determine the unique risk profile of your choir and then set up appropriate measures for everyone’s health and safety.
Why bother we’re basically back to normal anyway?
Whether they are saying so or not many members of our choirs are likely to be unsure about returning to singing. They’ve heard all the ‘super-spreader’ stories, but they’re unlikely to be able to make a decision based on the latest specialised research. They’ll be weighing up the risk, and looking to see if it’s a safe space.
"Fear is an irrational response arising from the failure to evaluate actual risk. Responses arising through fear are almost certain to be more risk-averse than they need be." (ABCD Guidance on Risk Assessment)

By preparing a safety plan we are letting our choir members know we care and we are helping them to be more confident about coming to choir. A safety plan will also give the choir as a whole more confident that they can host performances whilst keeping the singers and the audience safe.
Preparing a safety plan does not remove individual responsibility: one person (or a committee) can’t carry the weight of deciding for everyone if this is a safe thing to do. What we can do is to identify the risks, put systems in place that minimise the risks, tell them what risks remain, then support them to make their own decision about participating or not. Once you’ve done the initial assessment and put controls in place, it becomes much more manageable to keep up to date with new research, guidelines or government directives, and to review risks and control measures on a regular basis as the situation develops.

How do I prepare a Covid Safety Plan (CSP) for my choir?

First let’s be clear, there is no single way to do this. The good news is that others in your choir or singing group may have previous experience with evaluating risk and they can be of great help. The activity of risk assessment/management has been around for a long time, and we’ve all experienced the outcomes of these things, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time. Applying it to singing in a time of pandemic? That’s the new bit. What we’re doing is bringing together the common activity of risk analysis with the new information about singing and the spread of Coronavirus.
We’re starting to see some good work in this area coming from overseas – particularly the UK, where they’re looking to return to singing after many months of enforced closure. Of course, circumstances in the UK are different from here in New Zealand, but their application of risk analysis to singing in a time of Covid-19 is relevant to our situation too, and some of us have found it helpful when approaching an unfamiliar subject. More links below.
Who’s going to do the work of preparing the plan?
We are often surprised to discover the skills and occupations, both present and past, of our choir members. Preparing the plan can draw on these hidden skills but more importantly it gives the choir members themselves a chance to have input into what is important to them, whether or not they are part of a committee or steering group. Importantly, you should consider that this is beyond the responsibility of one person, and particularly not the role of the song leader. A risk assessment should take everyone’s safety into consideration, and it’s too easy to think of everyone except ourselves.

What are these risks then?
These are some of the things your safety plan might address:
  • Venue – The size and location influence the risk involved.
  • Proximity – the distance between people while they’re at the event (including arriving or socialising)
  • Ventilation – The movement of air in an enclosed space (air conditioning, or doors & windows)
  • Duration – Aerosols build up in a room over time. The length of time people are together is another factor we can control.
  • Hygiene – cleaning regimes to reduce virus transmission on surfaces.
  • Contact tracing – participants are able to keep their own records using the contact tracing app, AND the group collects attendance information for their own records.
  • Symptomatic carriers – Ensuring that people who are unwell stay home, and a policy to handle unwell people who turn up or fall ill during the event.
  • Asymptomatic carriers – Identifying higher risk participants such as those who have been advised to self-isolate whilst awaiting test results.
  • Social interaction – The particular risks associated with sharing food or drinks as part of your event.
  • Vulnerable groups – The elderly and immune-compromised may need additional consideration.
  • Performance Strategies - managing protocols for your audience as well.

Next steps and links

If you’re ready to dive into risk assessment for your singing group, here are some more links to get you started. We’ll keep updating this list as we come across new sources of useful information.
The Process of Risk Assessment:
Association of British Choral Directors Guidance on Risk Assessment
Carol Shortis Risk Assessment for Community Choirs in Aotearoa New Zealand
Information about singing and Covid-19
NZCF  Guidelines for rehearsals under Alert Levels 1 & 2
AOTOS webinar Singing, aerosols and COVID – what does the PERFORM study tell us?
BMJ Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19?
Useful article about ventilation and air filtration
PERFORM Study preliminary report
Risk Assessment Templates and examples of risk management plans
Making Music (UK) – Risk assessment for COVID secure rehearsals
ABCD (UK) – Risk Assessment Template
Music Mark (UK) Questions about ventilation
Local Vocals Choir (NZ) Risk Assessment Templateand current Risk Assessment
Sally Randall (NZ) Risk Assessment Template

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