SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As 105 lawmakers and a number of legislative staff, lobbyists, media and citizens descend upon Pierre for the start of the 2021 legislative session, who will be wearing masks at the Capitol this week?       

For lawmakers, it depends which chamber you are in. For everyone else, masks will be a requirement.

In the Senate, lawmakers are “expected” to wear a mask. Anyone not wearing a mask should remain at least six feet from others. In the House, lawmakers are “encouraged” to wear a mask. 

The use of masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 has been a hot-button issue nationwide, statewide and locally. While South Dakota remains one of 12 states without a statewide mandate, some counties and municipalities have passed various forms of mask mandates. 

Senator Troy Heinert (D-Mission) he was “disappointed” in the House’s decisions related to COVID-19 protocols. He said the Senate was “at least trying something” in regards to COVID-19 protocols.

Health officials across the state continue to promote mask wearing as a way to curb the spread.   

South Dakota’s Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdom has said “masks do matter and we ask people to wear masks especially when they can’t exercise those other mitigation strategies.” 

SDSU Epidemiologist Bonny Specker has pointed to changes in the COVID-19 numbers to show mask mandates are making a bigger difference.

Avera Health Dr. David Basel has said some scientific studies show masks vary between 50 to 90 percent effective in preventing spread of COVID-19.

Senate leader Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) and House Speaker-elect Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) are the two leaders in charge of setting the rules for each chamber ahead of the 2021 session. The proposals will have to go through respective committees on legislative procedure for consideration before moving to the House and Senate floors for more debate and eventual vote.

All non-lawmakers — witnesses, lobbyists, citizens and media — in both chambers will be “required” to wear face coverings on the third and fourth floors, as will all Legislative Research Council staff. Legislators are also encouraging remote testimony and the use of digital documents.

Heinert added he’s worried about the virus spreading during the session and if there’s enough precautions in place to protect staff, citizens and media.

“I’d like to finish in the session in person,” Heinert said. “I’m just not sure that’ll be the case.” 

Both the Senate and House will allow schedule changes due to COVID-19.