- Researchers from University College London study how face masks affect aerosols
- Covers found when singing, breathing or speaking reduce droplets by up to 99%
- Professor Lawrence Lovett said findings suggest it is safe to reopen cinemas
Andrew Lloyd Webber (pictured) is right to expect theaters to reopen ‘hell or high water’ next month, a study has suggested
Andrew Lloyd Webber is ‘right’ to demand that cinemas reopen next month because face masks significantly reduce transmission indoors, a scientist has claimed.
Amid the uncertainty around June 21’s ‘Independence Day’, the 73-year-old musician said he is ready to be arrested for preventing the closure of one of his theaters on June 25 plans to reopen.
And a University College London study now suggests that as long as theater-goers wear face masks, venues can be opened safely and securely.
Safe return study claims the covering can reduce aerosol droplet – tiny beads of moisture that may contain coronavirus – transmission by up to 99 percent.
Scientists used Android robots with special ventilators to determine how many droplets survived when the machine simulated breathing, speaking or singing while wearing a face mask.
Scientists at University College London used androids with special ventilators (pictured) to determine how many aerosols survived when a machine exited while wearing a face mask
The researchers measured how far the droplets traveled using lasers, which were fed through computer models to track how they traveled in enclosed spaces.
They used lasers to light the droplets in the air to measure the size of the droplets and allow them to be accurately tracked.
Lawrence Lovett, professor of gastroenterology and biophotonics at UCL, said the study found theaters are ‘safe places to go’, as long as guests wear coverings.
Professor Lovett, an expert in esophagus and bowel cancer, said studies show that face masks are strong enough to ensure that theater-goers are safe while inside.
He said: ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber is right. Theaters become safe places to go if theater-goers wear proper masks and follow other pre-existing rules.
‘Across all trials – singing, breathing and speaking – these results suggest that face masks provide a significant and robust level of protection against COVID transmission.’
How does COVID spread and what causes infection?
At the start of the pandemic, experts warned that COVID spread mostly through fomites – clothing, utensils and objects that are likely to carry the virus.
He suggested that touching these and then placing hands on the mouth, nose or eyes could lead to infection.
But evidence now suggests that the risk from this action is small – less than five in 10,000 according to one paper – and the US CDC says it is no longer a main route of transmission.
Instead, scientists believe that the disease is primarily wind-borne, making it very difficult to control.
The World Health Organization says SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic-causing virus, is mainly spread through droplets from sneezing, coughing and even talking.
Droplets, which contain saliva, mucus and other substances from the airways including viruses, are larger than pure air particles.
After being released from the body they travel a short distance before falling to the floor, which is why social distancing is so important.
Some experts have even suggested that aerosols – the light particles released in the breath and when someone talks – are the major drivers.
This is why scientists are advising that face masks are necessary to prevent the spread of particles, which means less can be inhaled and picked up in the atmosphere.
They say that ventilation is important indoors in order for fresh air to circulate and not build up these droplets.
He added: ‘We have developed a unique method to understand the spatiotemporal movement of droplets. Proper face covering really reduces it fast.
‘With our technology, we were able to build the engineering rig and the android ourselves. This allows us to extend it to test what really happens in cinemas and large public places.
‘We put the engineering rig inside Android to replicate a real head. We can change the frequency so to speak and produce different types of drops. There is a huge difference.’
The UCL team did their initial work as part of the CONFUS study of face masks. It was launched to help keep places of worship open across the UK and to learn what happens to the virus in open spaces at University Hospital.
Their work has now been extended to a safe return study looking at all indoor public gatherings.
Professor Lovett said: ‘Our UCL Safe Return Study is working more broadly towards making theaters and commercial spaces safer for all.
‘I believe the UK government should support the reopening of cinemas and live entertainment and allow singing to return to places of worship.’
Prof Lovett and his team tested two types of masks: disposable surgical masks and reusable snood-style virostatic shields. Both were shown to be effective in controlling the spread of droplets.
The pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on the theater industry and many have remained shut despite the easing of COVID restrictions as it is not economically viable for them to open with less capacity.
Lord Lloyd-Weber is preparing for the production of Cinderella, which is set to open for previews on June 25, ahead of its world premiere in July.
He told me daily Telegraph: ‘We’re going to open, come hell or high water.
‘[If the Government demands theatre openings are postponed] We’d say “come to the theater and arrest us”.
Lord Lloyd-Weber said scientific evidence shows anteaters are ‘absolutely safe’ and do not cause outbreaks.
He said: ‘If the government neglects its own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them.
‘If Cinderella can’t open, we’ll go “Look…