When houses of worship were allowed to resume in-person services May 18, Massachusetts issued a detailed set of guidelines designed to curb the spread of coronavirus: Attendance is limited. Worshipers and staff must wear masks. Cleaning is required after each service. Coffee hour is canceled.
But neither the state nor federal government has provided instructions on singing, a central part of worship across faiths since time immemorial. That leaves religious governing bodies and individual faith leaders to make their own decisions, just as experts are sounding alarms over the potential dangers.
A May 12 report from the Centers for Disease Control indicated that the “act of singing” probably helped spread coronavirus during a March 10 choir practice at a church in Washington State. Dozens fell ill after the rehearsal, and two people died. The CDC later recommended suspending or decreasing singing during religious ceremonies. “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols,” read the agency’s guidelines, posted May 22 on the CDC website. However, the White House quickly scrubbed any language concerning choirs, according to the Washington Post.
In Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has responded by disallowing both choral and congregational singing in “these early days,” permitting just one cantor and an instrumentalist per Mass. The two Episcopal dioceses of Massachusetts went a step further, delaying all in-person worship services until at least July 1 and prohibiting congregational singing beyond that.