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State health leader: Best thing for parents to do before school begins is get children vaccinated

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Gov. Kathy Hochul's office
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State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, left, and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said masks will not be required in schools this year, but New York is stockpiling rapid tests and personal protective equipment in anticipation of yet another potential surge of COVID-19 as the fall gets under way.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, said the best protection for kids is to get vaccinated.

Bassett said “this is a really great time” for parents to get their children vaccinated if they have not already done so.

“We still have much lower rates than I’d like to see, particularly in the 5- to 11-year-olds,” said Bassett, who added less than 40% of kids in that age group are fully vaccinated.

Bassett also offered advice for navigating the current surge of the BA.5 omicron variant. She said again, the best protection is to get fully vaccinated. While masks are not required in most indoor settings, she recommends wearing one in places like the grocery store. Masks are still required on many forms of public transportation, and the New York City health commissioner also recommends masking in indoor public settings.

Bassett said while there are more reported cases of COVID-19 this summer than the two previous summers, the incidences of hospitalization and death are much lower. She credits vaccinations for that.

She's on the fence about whether it’s better to get a second booster shot now if you have not already done so, or wait until a booster shot more targeted for the omicron variants becomes available, likely in a couple of months.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to wait for the fall if they feel they’ve been doing a pretty good job at protecting themselves from infection,” she said.

Bassett said she received a second booster shot for added protection when traveling on airplanes and trains.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.