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CDC Says Singers Could Be Virus Superspreaders — But 100 Sang Unmasked With Pence

A choir of about 100 performers sang at a megachurch campaign event featuring Vice President Pence on Sunday. They did not wear masks while they sang.

Many epidemiologists and singing experts currently fear that singers may be superspreaders of COVID-19, due to aerosolization of the virus. Singing involves much more forceful and deep breathing than simple talking.

The choir was performing at the Celebrate Freedom Rally, which took place at Dallas' First Baptist Church and was billed as an event "to celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with you through worship." According to CNN, about 2,200 people attended the rally at the Texas megachurch, which can hold about 3,000 people. The singers reportedly wore face coverings between their selections.

Last Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a "pause" on his state's reopening after saying that Texas is facing a "massive outbreak" of the coronavirus.

Attendees at the First Baptist event went through temperature screenings before entering the megachurch, which boasts a membership of 13,000, and the church "strongly encouraged" those at the rally to wear masks and observe social distancing. It's unclear whether all performers and speakers were subjected to similar measures. Pence wore a mask except when he spoke.

On May 15, the CDC published a report on a 2 1/2-hour indoor choir practice in Skagit County, Wash., that took place in early March and was attended by 61 people. Afterward, 85% of those singers apparently contracted the coronavirus, with 32 confirmed and 20 probable COVID-19 cases. Three of the singers were hospitalized, and two died.

That month, the CDC posted guidance regarding singing for leaders of faith-based organizations, advising that they suspend or at least decrease use of choirs and musical ensembles as well as congregant singing and chanting.

However, that specific guidance was removed from the CDC website by the end of May. NPR reported that an unnamed federal official said that it was taken down because it had not been cleared by the White House.

On Saturday, the day before the church rally, President Trump's campaign announced that it was postponing two campaign events that Pence was scheduled to headline in Florida and Arizona this week "out of an abundance of caution" over the spikes in coronavirus cases in those two states.

In his Sunday remarks at the church, Pence said in part: "As we think about the challenges — the loss of more than 125,000 of our countrymen; when we think of the grief of those families; we think of those that are still struggling with this disease today; those who've endured economic hardship in the midst of the challenges we face — let's claim that ancient promise that if His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray, He'll do like he's always done through the long and storied history of this nation. He'll hear from heaven, and He'll heal this land."

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.