The PandeMusic app and How You Can Help Ongoing Research into Covid and Music-Making

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PandeMusicOn Thursday I attended a session for Association of British Choral Directors members on a new app called PandeMusic. They’ve not done a major launch yet because it is taking a while to get it into the Apple Store, but it is already available for Android – indeed I downloaded and had it up and running during the session, submitting my first report in less time than it took the presenters to explain it. So I don’t think it’s premature to tell everyone else about it.

The app is a collaboration between abcd and Making Music. It is the brainchild of Martin Ashley, who gave a presentation on what it does, and why, and was developed by John Willetts, who gave a demo of how to use it.

So, what does this app do? It is basically a version of the ZOE Covid-19 app for musical ensembles. The idea is to report after each rehearsal that it happened and whether any participant has tested positive for Covid-19 in the week that follows. The two questions are very quick to answer, though if the answer to the second is ‘yes’. there is a follow-up questionnaire to capture further details about what happened at the rehearsal (indoors/outdoors, masked/unmasked etc). The reporting, like with the ZOE app, is anonymous, the point being to build up a picture of activity across the country, not to investigate individual groups.

(I asked, and they are currently only collecting data from the UK, though there may be scope to widen this out in due course. At first this surprised me, given the international breadth of Martin’s research in this area – he cites case studies from all over the world in his work. But thinking about it further, my guess is because of the correlation with location data. The app asks for the first part of your postcode, so the relationship with local case rates is likely to be a salient point in the analysis, and it is a much bigger job to manage the consistency of this kind of correlative data internationally than nationally.)

You may also wonder why they have developed it. Martin pointed out that we currently have very little actual data about how Covid-19 is transmitted in real-world rehearsal contexts. There are a few, unfortunate, case studies that have been thoroughly analysed (for example here and here), but since the response to these was basically to stop most group music-making for over a year, there has been very little real-world experience of musicking and Covid. Most of the research we are working from comes from laboratory tests and mathematical modelling. It is not until we start making music in person again in significant numbers that we will see how this plays out in practice.

We are likely to be living with, and having to manage Covid for some time to come. Martin made the comparison with measles, which we mostly no longer have to worry about. But when the measures developed to control it are weakened by lower rates of vaccination, it starts to resurge. It will take time to get Covid under that level of control internationally, so we need good real-world data on how it behaves to help us hone our methods to manage the risks it poses in the interim.

And the key thing here is to get *lots* of data. This is where you can help if you are a musician in the UK heading back face-to-face live rehearsals. It may seem like hardly more than nothing, but reporting your entirely unremarkable rehearsal is a really important data point. As John pointed out, if we only ever know about the rehearsals where someone got sick, the data for choral singing looks terrible. If we are, on the whole, managing the risks effectively, we need to know that.

And in the unfortunate cases where someone does get sick, understanding what happened matters too. Martin gave a hypothetical example: if there were 7,000 rehearsals reported, and if after 5 of them there were cases of Covid, and it turned out that all of those were indoors, you’d want to look again at what advice was being given for indoor rehearsal.

He gave this example in response to the point that if someone tests positive for coronavirus 5 days after your rehearsal, that does not necessarily mean that your rehearsal was where they got infected. But if you get enough data, patterns will reveal themselves through the noise.

So, if you are resuming your rehearsals, even in the radically cut-down form we are still restricted to in England, please go get this app and start contributing. There will be a more formal launch when it is also available for iphones, but in the meantime it must be a fairly rare choir in which nobody owns an android phone. Let’s start the collection of what will hopefully be a large body of happily uneventful data.

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