SHORELINE — Disease trackers are calling a choir practice in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, a superspreader event that illustrates how easily the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can pass from person to person.

The act of singing itself may have spread the virus in the air and onto surfaces, according to a report published Tuesday by Skagit County Public Health.

“One individual present felt ill, not knowing what they had, and ended up infecting 52 other people,” said lead author Lea Hamner, calling the outbreak a tragedy.

Two choir members died of COVID-19 after attending the March 10 practice of the Skagit Valley Chorale. The rehearsal was held nearly two weeks before the state’s stay-home order went into effect.

Carole Woodmansee died on the morning of March 27 — her 81st birthday — from complications of COVID-19. She contracted the virus, her family believes, from a March 10 rehearsal of the Skagit Valley Chorale, after which several dozen singers became ill. Woodmansee had been a longtime member of the group.
Skagit Valley Chorale member Carole Rae Woodmansee, 81, centered her life around family, faith and music

Other superspreader events are known: A Chicago cluster of 16 cases, including three deaths, stemmed from a funeral and a birthday party. South Korea is investigating an outbreak linked to nightclubs reopening earlier this month.

The Skagit singers sat 6 to 10 inches apart in different configurations during the 2½-hour rehearsal at a church in Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Seattle, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Advertising

Choir members had no physical contact, although some snacked on cookies and oranges or helped stack chairs, they told investigators. The virus could have spread when exhaled droplets landed on those items.

Another theory? A fine mist of virus particles emitted during singing could have contributed, the report suggests. Some people emit more particles than others and such emissions can happen with loud talking or, possibly, singing.

The virus is thought to primarily spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

More on the coronavirus outbreak

The singers felt their first symptoms — cough, fever, muscle pain or headaches — one to 12 days after the practice. The sick singers’ average age was 69 and most were women, nearly matching the demographics of choir practice attendees.

Understanding how the coronavirus spreads is important for preventing and tracking the disease it causes. The CDC recommends avoiding large groups, wearing cloth masks in public and staying at least 6 feet apart from others.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.