Zhifei Zeng ’23
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many performing arts groups such as choirs, orchestras, opera, and dance companies have suffered a heavy loss. This is mainly because COVID-19 can be spread through infectious aerosols produced by singing or playing wind instruments, which led to show cancellations throughout the industry. To assess mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of infection to performers, researchers from the University of Utah Salt Lake City used computational fluid dynamics to simulate aerosol flow and dispersion in a variety of wind instruments at concert venues.
Researchers first developed a computerized fluid dynamics code to simulate the airflow circulation structure of the venue. Next, they simulated the flow pattern of the stage with mitigation strategies such as rearranging the locations of instruments, opening doors, and using a plenum space. Wind instruments with higher emission rates were placed near the vents, while the piano and percussion instruments were placed in the center of the stage. The researchers measured the average aerosol concentrations in the breathing zone where players’ heads were located to investigate the effectiveness of those strategies. The aerosol concentration showed that for stages with good ventilation, such as a large number of vents in the ceiling, a large vortex structure can be formed to quickly remove emissions. Rearranging the position of instruments and opening the doors is enough to reduce the accumulation of emissions. However, for the stage with older air conditioning systems or poor ventilation, aerosol particles spread and accumulated throughout the stage area even after applying the previous strategies. Adding a plenum space, a high-pressure space that promotes air circulation in air conditioning systems, is a better strategy, as it significantly changed the flow geometry and reduced the spread of emissions.
The researchers concluded that using computational fluid dynamics can help in designing mitigation strategies to alter the airflow patterns, thus effectively reducing the risk of mutual transmission of performers in the orchestra during the pandemic. Computational fluid dynamics not only help the stage performance industry perform normally during a pandemic, but also allow more audiences to enjoy safe performances during this difficult time.
 H. Hedworth, et al., Mitigation strategies for airborne disease transmission in orchestras using computational fluid dynamics. Sci. Adv 7, 26 (2021).
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