SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, is affecting everyone in the SF Bay Area and beyond. Students are home. Concerts are cancelled. Teachers are scrambling to maintain a remote studio. And lots of people are out of work.
On the flute repair-side it has been lonely. Mine is not an essential business. And then there’s the issue of contact. For indepth repair there is no part of an instrument that I don’t touch with my hands or breathe on. When someone hands me a flute they are certainly within six feet of me. Flute playing is a lot of breathing and blowing and flying droplets.
So in addition to finishing up an overhaul — the one I call The Hostage — I’ve been researching the implications of SARS-CoV-2 on my work. These are my thoughts on what changes I need to make to continue working once restrictions on work and physical contact are modified or lifted:
- Purchasing a hospital-grade UV light fixture and building a flute-cabinet for sterilization. The reasoning behind this is:
- It takes 120,000 microwatts per second at a distance of one meter to kill SARS. SARS-CoV-2 is like SARS.
- If I buy a unit that emits 117 microwatts per second, then it will take about 1,025 seconds or 17 minutes to kill SARS.
- Time will be reduced if distance is reduced.
- This will be particularly useful on metal surfaces and potentially wood. I would not want to put key work under UV light, however, because of likely damage to pads.
- Wiping down with alcohol. 70% isopropyl alcohol is great for killing coronaviruses. Unfortunately isopropyl alcohol had disappeared from store shelves. And I cannot get it on ferrous parts (i.e., your rods) and directly on the skins of flute pads or on felts or cork pieces.
- Everyone wears a mask. #Masks4All.
- Letting the flute sit. Say someone infected with SARS-CoV-2 plays a flute. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine an aerosolized version of the virus was detectable in a degraded form for up to three days on stainless steel. Let’s extrapolate stainless steel to other metals. And let’s also call blowing into your flute an aerosol. The implications are that your flute can harbor detectable traces of SARS-CoV-2 for up to three days. So the new normal may be unless the flute is thoroughly cleaned to not to play the instrument for three days after another person has played it. And unless it’s a simple repair, I will play your flute. And most people play their flute before bringing it into me.
- Don’t be in the same room as someone playing the flute. Playing the flute is like talking or coughing: it sends an aerosol into the air and aerosols are some of the primary means of transmission. Believe me, I’ve sat next to people when they’ve played and felt their breath and droplets of moisture hit me. It’s an aerosol. My new normal is to always wear a face mask when leaving the house. And because of my contact with the instrument I should also wear a mask while repairing a flute. And there are risks when I’m in the room while someone’s playing the flute. Maybe there’s no longer play-testing after a repair. Unfortunately, a Mr. Vernon choir practicing outside of Seattle has proven that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted relatively easily in the air. Flutists are not singers but we inhale and project outward a lot of air.I’m wondering if one could make a flute-mask that can fit over the face and mouth of the flutist and also cover part of the headjoint. Face masks – even cloth ones made at home – are very likely to stop transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in casual settings. As I write this the United States is probably going to follow guidelines used in other countries and recommend wearing face masks in all public places. Simple face masks won’t help stop the spread during invasive medical procedures, but I’m going to say that flute repair does not fit beneath that category. A flute-mask is something else to ponder after I build the sterilizing cabinet.
And in the meantime there are new challenges and small victories to be embraced on a daily basis. Take care all. #Shelterinplace, #Masks4All, wash your hands frequently, and keep practicing.
I’ve found this to be a helpful article: “The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, Harvard Business Review.