Widespread reporting on COVID-19 choir outbreaks has shown to be based on inaccurate information.
Researchers from England’s Brunel University, Nottingham Trent and Brighton Medical School have found that data related to the outbreak from a choir practice in Washington was fundamentally flawed.
The study looked at the details surrounding a church choir practice in Washington state where 53 people developed symptoms of respiratory disease after attending a rehearsal. The review found that infection had occurred two to four days before the practice, demonstrating that symptoms started too early to have been caused by the choir rehearsal.
Media outlets around the world, including Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), cited the study as a reason why choirs should remain closed, even as other live events were given the go-ahead to open.
The effects of the misleading study were particularly devastating to choirs in the UK, where health officials adopted new rules to ensure UK choirs would remain closed for an additional 18 months.
The subsequent public relation nightmare prompted leaders from choral groups across Canada to release an open letter to the public regarding concerns about reopening amid COVID-19. The letter claimed the media reports were “based on out-of-date, insufficiently researched, anecdotal and sensationalist information.”
How could this happen?
Professor Robert Dingwall of Nottingham Trent University called the case “…a good illustration of a familiar phenomenon, where an early tentative study gets taken for granted and cited without careful re-evaluation” […] “If policy blunders are to be avoided, there are likely to be many comparable cases out there, and the scientific community needs to find better ways to detect them.”