New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session in the Red Room of the State Capitol, Friday, July 1, 2022, in Albany, NY (AP Photo/Hans Pennink )

ALBANY, NY — New York is preparing for a possible spike in COVID-19 cases when schools reopen by stockpiling tests and keeping mask mandates on the table, Governor Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

“We have to be aware of what our future could be,” the governor said at a press conference in Manhattan. “If anything, this pandemic, COVID, has taught us that preparations are the key to, literally, survival. »

Hospitalizations and infections are already on the rise in the Empire State thanks to omicron’s BA.5 subvariant, which has proven particularly effective in evading protections against previous vaccinations and infections.

The state has stockpiled more than 20 million home tests that are ready for distribution as needed when students begin to return to classrooms, and Hochul said mask mandates could also return if infections spike.

“We do not currently anticipate, based on today’s numbers, the need for masks in classrooms, but I will reserve the right to revert to this policy if numbers change, circumstances change” , she said.

Indoor mask rules, including schools, were suspended earlier this year following a winter spike in coronavirus cases.

State to send about 3 million test kits to districts before start of school year

Health officials have encouraged anyone over the age of 50 to get a COVID shot if they haven’t received one yet this year to protect them from infection.

New York is also inviting proposals for a pandemic policy review to study how the state has handled the COVID crisis, which critics have long called for and Hochul has promised will happen shortly. after taking office last year.

The review will focus on state policies that affected schools and businesses, as well as controversial rules that impacted nursing homes and prisons, during the height of the pandemic.

“I want to make sure that we’re very intentional about it, that we have a broad scope in what we’re doing, and that we have a real blueprint for it to serve us well,” Hochul said.

A request for proposals for the “After Action Review Panel” will be released soon, and Hochul said she expects initial findings to be completed in six months and a full review to be ready sometime in the future. next year.

New York’s pandemic response has come in for a lot of criticism, particularly over nursing home rules under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo that many believe have resulted in unnecessary deaths.

A review by Attorney General Letitia James released last year found the state dramatically underreported nursing home deaths during the height of the pandemic.

State Homeland Security Commissioner Jackie Bray will help oversee the independent review that will begin soon, Hochul said.

The governor also denounced concerns over recent reports of campaign donations made by a family who runs a company that received an untendered contract for COVID testing.

“I didn’t know it was a company that supported me, I don’t keep any record of that,” she said.