Why would I, a singing teacher and self-employed person, choose to self-quarantine for two weeks? Read on to learn about how I ended up in this situation, my take on valuing community, and how I came to my decision.
This weekend, I returned from a holiday in New Zealand (my home country). I certainly didn’t expect to have to decide whether or not to self-quarantine! New Zealand being a long way away, we always have to transit somewhere. Our favourite transit airport is Hong Kong. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 novel corona virus, this caused some problems! We were very careful during our travels (see below for a reminder of how to maintain good personal hygiene), so we didn’t experience any real stress ourselves. If anything, the empty airports made our trip even easier than usual, apart from the increased vigilance!
But as we stepped off the plane in France, we were met by a medical team. Hong Kong is currently included on France’s list of “risky” destinations, and so the authorities asked us to respond accordingly. The medical team passed out masks and information leaflets from the Ministry of Health. We put on the masks as instructed, and made the rest of our way home.
Along with requesting our vigilance over any potential symptoms, the leaflets instructed us to avoid contact with crowds, work from home if possible, and wear a mask when in public and in close proximity to others. None of this is mandatory, but certainly required some thought. Did I need to self-quarantine?
Let me talk you through my decision process. My first thought was:
How can I teach wearing a mask?
The answer: I think it’s impossible. Singing teaching requires being able to demonstrate sounds and movements. The sounds would be muffled by a mask, distorting an already subtle communication between teacher and student. The movements of the mouth, jaw, tongue, cheeks and lips would be hidden. So, that’s a firm no. Hmm.
What if I taught without a mask?
The thing is, I was only in Hong Kong for 6 hours. In the airport. We were very careful – we washed our hands or used alcoholic hand sanitiser after every time we touched common surfaces, and before and after touching our faces and eating. We stayed a good distance away from others. So the chances of my being infected are really low, probably. Couldn’t I just teach without a mask?
But. With a new virus, we don’t know all the facts. We don’t know how contagious it is yet, and we don’t know if it’s contagious when you’ve got no symptoms. And I do know that a singing lesson inevitably involves a lot of things that are conducive with spreading bugs! How many times in a singing lesson do you touch your face? What about doing lip trills? Inevitably a little bit of spit flies! Of course, there is always some distance between the teacher and student, but in the studios I teach in, there simply isn’t room for the six feet of distance recommended.
I thought briefly about adapting my teaching to minimise risk, like not using lip trills, and having hand sanitiser available for use before and after needing to touch one’s face. But it would depend on the vigilance of each student – how do you ensure an eight year old maintains rigorous hygiene practices? Plus, it doesn’t take in to account my own potential contamination of the pianos and microphones I teach with, which are used by many people every day. It’s pretty hard to disinfect a piano!
So, that’s also not looking like a great option.
Self-Quarantine: Putting my students first
First, do no harm. This is one of my personal mantras as a singing teacher. I always put my student’s wellbeing (physical and mental) first, in every decision I make. Even the business decisions – which is largely what this decision has been for me. It’s not at all convenient to be stuck at home for two weeks of self-quarantine! I will lose some income from it, and have to put off some business meetings, miss networking opportunities, and delay meeting some new students. It will make the weeks following the quarantine extremely busy, much more than usual, which will be a lot of extra pressure. But these are all trivial compared to the real matter at hand.
At the end of the day, my students are my why, and they are at the heart of everything I do. There is no way that I would risk their health, or the health of any of the other users of the studios I share with other musicians and teachers. Yes, disruption to lessons (especially after a three week break) is not ideal, and will be a pain for some students who have upcoming deadlines. But health comes first, and we will adapt.
Adapting for the good of the community
Choosing to self-quarantine isn’t about what’s best for me as an individual. It’s about what’s best for my community. My community of my studio, my community of neighbours and friends, and my community as a resident of Paris. Keeping an epidemic in check requires making some personal sacrifice for the good of the community. The more people that can think like that, in this day and age of valuing individuality so highly, the better we will cope in the face of new challenges.
So, we’ll be having online lessons (just like during the transport strikes) for the next two weeks. Luckily, because we’ve done it once before, it should be relatively easy to adapt to the situation. I’m very grateful for having such understanding and adaptable students, who get why I’ve made this decision and support it.
A bientôt – I’ll be back in public on March 7th for the Hamilton workshops! (I’m counting my lucky stars that the 14 days of self-quarantine finish just in time for day one of the workshops!)
French Government Information (in French): https://www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus
World Health Organisation (in English) https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
The Guardian have a great reminder of good hygiene practices: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/03/how-to-protect-yourself-from-coronavirus
The ethics blog post that helped me in my decision making: