TRAVER, Calif. (KGPE) – Gov. Gavin Newsom at Traver Elementary School Tuesday signed legislation aimed at reaching equitable access to high-speed internet to those in underserved areas. During his visit, Newsom was also pressed on the possibility of bringing back a statewide mask mandate as COVID-19 cases rise throughout the state. 

Traver Joint Elementary School is one of many schools in rural areas where students lack internet access at home — something they relied on heavily for virtual learning. 

“Last March we were exposed with many other school districts as well. We realized we did not have the wi-fi infrastructure for kids to learn at home,” said Steve Ramirez, the district superintendent principal at Traver Joint Elementary School. 

Ramirez said they worked with Tulare County to get many kids access to the internet, but still, that wasn’t enough. 

“With Zoom and the data that they extract, they were not able to do it with consistency,” Ramirez said. to hear what Gov. Newsom said today brings a lot of hope to me.”

Newsom signed a $6 billion investment with kids and lawmakers around him. The state said the plan would allow for the construction of a state-owned open access middle mile network and last-mile projects that connect households and businesses with local networks. 

“There is nothing that distinguishes the kids at Traver Elementary from the kids down there in Palo Alto. Nothing, except opportunity,” Newsom said. 

The plan could take years, but it’s one educators and lawmakers say is desperately needed. 

“What we know is that there are many communities that have no internet service, or if they do, it’s very slow,” said State Senator Anna Caballero. “We can’t wait any longer.”

Newsom’s visit to the Central Valley comes as he faces an upcoming recall election but also as cases rise throughout the Central Valley and state. When asked whether he would reinstate a statewide mask mandate regardless of vaccination status, he wouldn’t give a straight answer but continued urging people to get vaccinated. 

“We’re not looking to do any physical distancing, any social distancing. We’re not looking to close anything down. We’re fully committed to getting kids back in school, in-person for instruction. But we need to get more people vaccinated,” Newsom said. 

Newsom also didn’t comment on whether there was a certain COVID-19 data point, such as a certain positivity rate, where he would consider reinstating the mask mandate.