SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The new president and CEO of Sanford Health says he fully supports a statewide mask mandate for South Dakota.

Bill Gassen is getting settled into his new leadership position after Sanford and Kelby Krabbenhoft parted ways on Tuesday. Gassen says everyone needs to follow CDC guidelines, and that includes wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bill Gassen says his top priority as the new president and CEO of Sanford Health is listening to the physicians and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I need to hear from them, I need to understand what’s important to them to make sure they’re getting the resources and understand that we’re responsive to those needs,” Gassen said.

Gassen says hearing from the medical experts is important because, at 40 years old, he acknowledges he’s young to be the head of a regional health care system.

“I haven’t seen the things that more senior health care executives have, so what I’m going to have to do is, I’m going to have to lean into and rely upon experts around me,” Gassen says.

Gassen says he expects COVID-19 numbers to climb in South Dakota. But he’s encouraged about the potential for a vaccine being available, possibly by the end of the year.

“We still gotta act each and every day like it’s not coming and make sure that we prepare that way. I do think it’s coming. But we can’t rely on that. We’ve got to do everything we can to protect our people right now and to protect our communities,” Gassen said.

South Dakota does not have a mask mandate. But Gassen says it’s something the state should implement to protect more people from the coronavirus.

“It’d be fantastic if we didn’t have to mandate it, but in the best interest of public health, it looks as though that’s going to be the most effective way to accomplish that and so as a result, I’m in full support,” Gassen said.

Gassen says he’s approaching his new job with a narrow focus, while at the same time, dealing with the complexities of a deadly pandemic.

“No matter what else is going on around us, no matter what noise is out there, nationally, locally, regionally, I’ve got one question that I have to answer each and every single day: what is in the best interest of our patients? And that’s my focus is to answer that,” Gassen said.