Religious gatherings have drastically changed during the pandemic. From large church services, worship gatherings, prayer groups, and other meetings, everything moved online in a matter of weeks. In a unique ongoing study by University College London, researchers are calling for participants to take part in establishing the transmission of coronavirus in a religious setting.

A collaboration between UCL doctors and engineers leading the COVID and Face Masks Study (CONFESS Study) is asking participants to sing, change, or hum for the aerosol droplet test. The team aims to study the difference between worshipping with and without masks.

The first goal of the study is to see how the pandemic has changed religious practices in the United Kingdom. Second, the team will analyze the risks associated with possible transmission during religious gatherings as the congregation sings or chants during worship.

Participating in the CONFESS Study

All participants begin by completing an online questionnaire asking about personal religious practices and other factors such as susceptibility to the virus. For those in London, participants are invited to join some of the experimental sites depending on factors such as ethnicity and religion.

The first set of Londoners will go to the university and participate in a worship scenario with and without a mask. A high-speed camera will record the event with bright laser lights to trace the aerosols of each individual.

Currently, the U.K. government has allowed congregational worship to resume but with safety restrictions. The team hopes that their study would help the government's decisions regarding communal worship and singing during the pandemic.

The ultimate goal is to recruit up to 3,000 participants for the CONFESS Study. It will be ongoing until the end of 2020 and even welcome participants outside of London.

Professor Laurence Lovat shared the importance of places of worship and its significance in society, bringing together communities and individual spirituality. Coronavirus has affected the worship routines of many, including prayer groups, bible study groups, and congregational worship.

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Safe Religious Gatherings

Professor Lovat said that the team "aims to establish how the practice of worship has changed and found out what the risk of Covid-19 transmission is when singing, chanting or humming with or without a face mask. We want to produce information to help shape government policy for religious worship."

Hywel Davies shared that characterizing "aerosol droplets produced by a wide array of individuals and observe how effectively face masks inhibit the flow and number of droplets being emitted. This may allow us to understand how safe choirs or other gatherings are during the pandemic and how to increase their safety."

While some religious gatherings have resumed, many churches and other religious establishments continue to run online services and meetings. Dr. Kasai from the World Health Organization said that religious and spiritual leaders had a significant influence on people following health guidelines while comforting the communities they serve. "We applaud the creative efforts by so many faith leaders in recent months to stream sermons, post prayers online, expand religious radio programs and do everything they can to keep their congregations and communities safe."

READ: Experts Warn Singing Happy Birthday Increases Risk of COVID-19 Transmission

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