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Hochul releases fall coronavirus plan and takes first step to review state's pandemic policies

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that the state is prepping for a possible new surge of COVID-19 this fall, but she said no rules like indoor masking are anticipated right now.

The governor also said she's commencing a long-promised study of the state’s past pandemic policies.

The first COVID-19 briefing in several weeks featured Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. He said the current coronavirus variant, known as BA.5, accounts for 70% to 80% of all cases reported and is highly contagious. It can also re-infect someone who has already had it.

But he said many tools exist to help control the spread and severity of the virus, including the second round of booster shots that are now available.

“If you are over 50 years of age, and if you have not gotten a COVID shot this year … you need to go out and get one now,” Jha said.

Jha said a new vaccine that specifically addresses omicron and its subvariants will likely be available by autumn.

Hochul said she is also gearing up for the fall, when cases could spike once again. She said she's launching a “military-style” operation for both short-term and long-term planning, if the pandemic should again worsen.

Steps include stockpiling personal protective equipment and distributing 3 million test kits to all of the state’s school districts, so they can begin testing on the first day of school.

Hochul said for now, no masks will be required in schools or any indoor settings.

“We don’t currently, based on today’s numbers, anticipate the need for masks in classrooms,” said Hochul. “But I’m going to reserve the right to return to this policy.”

The governor said she is keeping her emergency authorization powers for now, so that she can act swiftly in case new public health rules need to be imposed, or if the National Guard needs to be deployed again to hospitals and nursing homes.

Hochul's political opponents have criticized her for delays over the start of a comprehensive review of the state’s pandemic policies since early 2020.

The governor announced Wednesday that a request for proposals is being