Tag Archive: COVID-19

Open offices spread noise and COVID-19, too

Photo credit: fauxels from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Open plan offices have been fashionable amongst corporate leaders for decades. Why? Not because people like working there; not because people are more productive in them. The real reason executives love open offices is because they’re cheap and changeable at a moment’s notice.

Seriously. Was anyone really fooled by the fashionable designer chairs and by managers’ enthusiastic talk about “teamwork” and “collaboration”? But now there’s the added problem of aerosol spread of COVID-19 among people working closely together in those very spaces.

I did some work, including some research, for the U.S. General Services Administration a few years ago on the long-ignored noise problem in open offices. That helped convince office planners that many people really DO NOT LIKE working in open offices—indeed they’re LESS productive there. But it took the GSA–the nation’s largest provider of office workspaces for civilians–to convince the corporate world that the noise/distraction problem is really serious and happy talk from senior leaders doesn’t make office workers more productive.

Now this year—in just the last couple of months—we’ve all become aware of the long-ignored problem of aerosol spread of COVID-19 in offices, classrooms, clubs, restaurants, etc.

So if you see/hear someone talking loudly across the room at your open office, keep in mind that they’re not just annoying you, they’re spreading germs too.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Could wearing a mask protect your hearing?

Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

COVID-19 (technically SARS-CoV-2) is a novel coronavirus first detected less than a year ago. Because it is new, no one has immunity to it, leading to a worldwide pandemic. And also because it is new, physicians, public health experts, virologists, and many others have much to learn about it.

Two recent articles add to this knowledge.

One, in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, reports that COVID-19 was isolated from mastoid bone and middle ear tissue. The other, in BMJ Case Reports, described a case of sudden irreversible hearing loss ascribed to COVID-19 infection.

It is well known that respiratory viruses can affect the middle and inner ear. Now we know this is also true for COVID-19.

Could wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 also protect your hearing?

Based on these two articles, I think the answer is, “Yes.”

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of its impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

High noise levels are dangerous for more than your ears

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have written about high ambient noise levels as a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders, and I’ve also noted that ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars are loud enough to cause hearing loss. A fascinating article by in The Atlantic also suggests that high ambient noise levels are a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission.

interviewed Muge Cervik, a lecturer in infectious disease at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a co-author of an extensive review of Covid-19 transmission conditions, who noted that what makes controlling COVID different from controlling an influenza outbreak is that transmission is more random–a few people infect a lot of others, in clusters of infection, while most infected people don’t infect anyone else. And loud talking is a risk factor for super-spreading of COVID-19. writes that Cervik told her that:

In study after study, we see that super-spreading clusters of COVID-19 almost overwhelmingly occur in poorly ventilated, indoor environments where many people congregate over time—weddings, churches, choirs, gyms, funerals, restaurants, and such—especially when there is loud talking or singing without masks. For super-spreading events to occur, multiple things have to be happening at the same time, and the risk is not equal in every setting and activity….

If ambient noise levels exceed about 75 A-weighted decibels*, people have to talk more loudly to be heard.  And often they may move closer together than the usual 3-4 foot social distance to a more intimate 1-2 foot distance. Of course, 3-4 feet is already less than the 6 foot safe social distance recommended for reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Noise Curmudgeon, a Canadian blogger who writes about noise, noted that Toronto offered the following guidance for bars and restaurants:

It is advised to keep the volume of music, either live or recorded, at a reasonable level-one that does not cause customers to raise their voices or shout, thereby possibly increasing the risk of transmitting the virus.

He went on to write:

And there you have it – turn that background music down so I don’t risk spreading or getting the corona virus! Now we have clear permission make the request without feeling like we are messing up other peoples’ background music. Perhaps if this virus continues for very long, low or no background music will become the “new normal”!! Yay!!!

We couldn’t agree more.

Because if a restaurant or bar sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your hearing is at risk.

And now, high ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars are a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Could a drug being developed to prevent hearing loss help fight COVID-19?

Photo credit: Martin Lopez from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As those who follow my writings know, I’m a big believer in the old public health principle that prevention of disease is almost always better and cheaper than treating it. That principle applies to hearing loss. Preserved normal hearing is much better than the best hearing aid, and costs almost nothing–just avoid loud noise or use hearing protection.

But we follow developments in treating or preventing hearing loss caused by noise exposure. The Holy Grail for this research is a drug that people could take after noise exposure, to prevent any lasting auditory consequences. One of these drugs under development is called Ebsalen.

This new report in the peer-reviewed online journal ScienceAdvances discusses repurposing Ebsalen to fight COVID-19 infection.

We think that may be a better use of Ebsalen than its originally intended use.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

 

 

 

 

The sound of a COVID-19 cough

Photo credit: GabboT licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Throughout history, physicians have used sounds to diagnose respiratory illness. Sometimes one doesn’t need a stethoscope. The barking cough of croup in a child, the ominous upper airway wheeze of epiglottitis, and the wheezes of someone with an asthma attack, can all be heard when walking into the patient’s room.

The stethoscope helps, though. Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope in 1816.

We listen for the wheeze of asthma, the bronchial breath sounds of pneumonia, the rales of congestive heart failure, or the diminished or absent breath sounds of pneumothorax.

I once even diagnosed lung cancer in a smoker when I heard the telltale “wheeze that doesn’t clear with a cough.” I had read about this in medical school, but had never heard it in practice until I did. I ordered a chest x-ray which confirmed the diagnosis and the patient was able to have curative surgery.

COVID-19 patients often have a dry cough. Until the U.S. develops sufficient testing capability to test every person needing a COVID test, perhaps sounds can help.

This NPR report discusses possibly using artificial intelligence to analyze the sounds of COVID coughs to develop a diagnostic test. This would also be useful in resource-poor environments around the world. I hope the efforts described are successful.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Is there any good that may come from this pandemic?

Photo credit: Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is there anything at all good about the COVID-19 pandemic? There’s an old saying that every cloud has a silver lining, but it’s hard to find one in this global health and financial storm.

But as people self-quarantine or shelter in place, and road traffic and aircraft traffic decreases, the streets, highways, and skies are noticeably quieter. The air is cleaner, too. And that’s good, even if it reflects a problem.

In these moments of quiet, perhaps we can rediscover the simple pleasures of reading a book, or gardening, or walking in a park (at least 6 feet away from others, to be sure), and think of earlier times when quiet was the norm.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.