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       Over the past two years, masks have very much been in the news in regards to COVID-19. There have been varying recommendations from the federal government, and these recommendations have been countered by a very vocal part of the population. The same issues have also varied around the world, with different degrees of use in varying countries and much concern from the general public, for valid reasons. Unclear messages are hard to interpret.
       The rules regarding safety precautions in a high school science lab follow similar patterns. Often, students are told to wear lab aprons and safety goggles for every lab. Yet students know friends from other schools who are not required to follow the same safety precautions. These mixed messages confuse students and increase the actual risks in science labs. Having “rules” that do not make sense do not help develop safety consciousness.
       I found that requiring unnecessary safety measures was counterproductive. Instead of requiring aprons and goggles for every lab, I classified labs into different levels. Some were very safe and required neither precaution. Others were intermediate and students needed to wear aprons and perhaps had to tie back long hair. Ones, such as those that involved caustic chemicals or heated liquids, required wearing both aprons and goggles.
       In each case, a brief discussion preceded the lab, explaining what the risks were and why the precautions were taken. When the students understood these factors, there was minimal resistance. I also noted that students were always allowed apply additional precautions, even if I did not require them. Over forty years ago, one student was heating a liquid in a test tube. His hand was getting tired, so he switched the test tube holder to his other hand without removing it from the flame, which was an error on his part. The test tube spit some hot liquid, but his safety goggles served their purpose. He not only learned the importance of the precautions; he also chose to wear goggles thereafter, even when not required. There was nothing wrong with him making that personal decision.
       The rules for wearing masks in regards to COVID-19 should also deliver clearer messages regarding when they should be worn. When you are inside in a crowded setting, wearing a mask is appropriate. At the same time, no one should object to others wearing masks when they so desire. Remember: the masks play two roles. First, they decrease the release of the virus from those who are infected. In addition, they also decrease the chance of having the virus enter your body.
       Use common sense in reaching your decision, but also honor the rights of others to make their own decisions.
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