SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Sen. John Thune wants federal mask requirements for children under the age of 5 to be stopped immediately.

Thune said a Head Start program in his hometown of Murdo was one of the first to complain about November requirements for masking and COVID-19 vaccination to receive federal funding. A lawsuit where South Dakota was listed as a plaintiff blocked the enforcement of the mandate.

South Dakota’s senior U.S. Senator and the Senate Republican Whip has introduced a resolution to stop a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) interim final rule (IFR) that requires all staff and volunteers in Head Start educational facilities around the country to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask.

Thune, who is running for reelection and a fourth term, told KELOLAND News the federal government shouldn’t be mandating masks or vaccines. 

“In my view at least, those are decisions that are better left to individuals in consultation with health care providers, doctors and their families,” Thune said. “These mask mandates just need to be done away with, particularly with kids under 5. The Biden Administration for whatever reason doesn’t seem to get that.” 

He said he hopes the Senate gets a chance to vote on his resolution to end the Head Start mandates, which also requires children two years of age and older to wear a mask. 

“It’s very frustrating, I think right now, to parents around this county partly because they want to be the ones who are in charge with their kids and partly because there isn’t any science that shows, particularly with kids under 5, that masks make a considerable difference,” Thune said. 

As new coronavirus cases continue to drop nationwide, Thune said the federal government should remain prepared with more testing and keep vaccines available for people in case another variant causes a rise in cases and strains health systems. 

Thune said getting rid of mandates would allow “people to exercise their freedoms coupled with individual responsibility.”  

He pointed out the lack of masks at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles and added mask requirements at airports can also be frustrating.

“My hope would be that the federal government, the transportation safety administration (TSA) would start to lift some of those mandates and people could start living normal lives again,” Thune said. “It permeates in a lot of different places in a lot of different levels in our society today. What’s most troubling and problematic is the impact it has on younger kids, particularly those kids under 5.” 

According to the Federal Election Commission, three other Republicans and one Democrat have registered and filed a financial report for the 2022 U.S. Senate election. KELOLAND News reached out to all the declared candidates for discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses will be added to this story.,

Brian Bengs, a former military attorney and Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate, said he, like many people, is burned out with COVID-19. However, Bengs said the pandemic isn’t done yet and he’d only support allowing more discretion with COVID-related mandates. 

Bengs said he wouldn’t support getting rid of mask mandates for air travel right now. 

“The close proximity is still a risk. What do I owe my fellow citizens? I’m healthy or maybe I’m not, I don’t know. So do I have any obligation to my fellow citizens? I think that we do,” Bengs said. 

On decisions related to COVID-19, Bengs said he’d follow the science and pointed to experts who study diseases and viruses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“If the CDC says we can lean back or we can lean forward, I’m going to defer to what the experts say,” Bengs said.  

The former Northern State University professor said there has to be a plan in place to deal with future pandemics. 

“The biggest lesson we should take away is that public health is not a political football and it shouldn’t be treated that way,” Bengs said. “I think the situation would be different if the death rate was a lot higher. This one has enough of a death rate that we have a huge amount of people that are no longer with us because of the situation.” 

Mark Mowry, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, said Thune’s Head Start resolution is a fine start, but he’d like to see all COVID-related federal mandates end. 

Mowry said Thune should join six other conservative senators threatening to not support short-term government funding to avoid a government shutdown unless a vote on defunding vaccine mandates is held. 

He also pointed to the Canadian truckers protesting vaccine mandates and worried truckers in the U.S. might do the same. 

“I believe they need to do it in Canada and I believe we need to do it in the United States as well,” Mowry said. “The federal government’s role should have ended long ago. We made that attempt to flatten the curve. We saw what the pandemic did health-wise.”  

Mowry said the cure has become more lethal than the illness itself. 

“We want local control,” Mowry said. “If New York or other states want to impose these kinds of mandates, fair, fine, not as a federal thing.” 

Mowry said he is running for U.S. Senate to use legislative power to influence policy in Washington D.C. and limit the executive branch of government.