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What are COVID-19 'super spreaders’ and why are church choirs on the list?

HOUSTON – We are learning more each day about the spread of COVID-19. We know certain situations make the virus spread faster, but why? We are looking into COVID-19 super spread events and what you can learn from it to keep your family safe.

Virus super spread events

A newly released CDC report looks into a Washington State choir practice that turned into a virus super spread event. 52 people contracted the virus and two people died. The findings show the virus spread rapidly because choir members were projecting their voices and breathing in, along with droplets projected to high-touch surfaces.

Leading to a discovery that some situations are more dangerous in spreading the virus. In Japan, 80 cases were tied to a live music venue, more than 100 cases from a South Korean nightclub. There are also COVID-19 clusters at nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants. Why these places?

“You have people in close quarters, you can’t necessarily shield them from others. They are very close to each other,” said Dr. Umair Shah of the Harris County Health Department.

Cheering and shouting at a sporting event is also a high risk for a “super spread” event.

“If you have people and fans in the stadium that are next to each other and the Texans score a touchdown and they are shouting and screaming in support - that’s potentially a challenge because now you’ve got people that are in close proximity, and emitting sound that can also possibly transmit or emit the virus,” said Dr. Shah.

“Anytime you can’t assure the social distancing, you can’t for whatever reason have people be mindful of the facial coverings, and you have people that are doing certain kinds of activities, that’s what concerns you,” added Dr. Shah.

But Dr. Shah says being outdoors and walking, even swimming is considered safer. Even restaurants are safe if they clearly take precautions to social distance inside.

How one church is taking extra precautions

Singing, dancing, and worshipping are what The Fountain of Praise Church in Southwest Houston is all about.

“We are very high worship,” said George Anderson, Chief Operating Officer Fountain of Praise. “We are actually known around the city for having some of the best singers and the best music.”

Coronavirus has kind of changed that, taking what was on stage to the screen.

“When we have this opportunity on the digital platform for people to be able to connect any time of the day, no matter where they are in the world,” said Mia Wright, CoPastor of The Fountain of Praise Church.

"We do everything we can to make sure everybody is safe,” said Dr. Remus Wright, Senior Pastor, The Fountain of Praise Church.

The church choir loft is one of the places doctors are calling super spreaders.

“When we sing, we know the aspirations, droplets can come out into the air,” said Mrs. Wright. “With COVID 19 the concern is people are safe, they are not infecting others and not putting others at risk.”

“They are projecting their voice,” explained Dr. Shah. “We know when we project, we sing when we are doing certain kinds of activities, we have more potential for spraying droplets out.”

Impact on the African American community

Leaders at The Fountain of Praise Church say they are in a unique position since the virus disproportionately affects African Americans - the majority of their congregation. So, they won’t take any risks with the health of their members until they know how services can be among the safe places to be too.

“One of the things we have been really proactive about is being a church that really promotes health initiatives as well,” said Pastor Wright.

As challenging as it’s been to be away from their congregation, Pastor Wright says the message stays the same.

“As a church, it’s not this building, even though we love this building, it's the building of people’s lives together,” said Pastor Wright. “Connected to us is what’s most important.

“However this pandemic rolls out, we are excited to continue to worship, to continue to praise the name of God - whatever that looks like - we are all in,” said Mr. Anderson.

Safety and reopening

“As we as a community reopen we want to make sure we are taking responsible actions,” explains Dr. Shah. “Not just for themselves but this is really about the people that are around them. All the different activities that are very much about let’s make sure we protect others. Let’s make sure we are taking the real responsibility so we are doing that.”

Washing your hands and social distancing are the best ways to prevent the spread in any situation. Experts also say restrictions against these super-spread events would help slow transmission and could allow for the easing of restrictions of more outdoor activities.