School closures. (Photo by Ty Hatch/Flickr)

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state education officials said Wednesday that public schools throughout the state are unlikely to open for the rest of the 2019-20 school year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic but classes are expected to remain in session.

With COVID-19 cases expected to continue rising at least through May, Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and state Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond said that schools should remain closed through the end of the school year, with online learning programs, physical homework packets and other “distance learning” methods replacing traditional class time.

To help educators achieve that goal, Newsom announced that Google will provide 100,000 points of WiFi and broadband internet access throughout the state for at least three months, as well as thousands of Chromebook laptops to help teachers and their students access schoolwork online and communicate effectively during the pandemic.

Thurmond also said the state Department of Education would hold a webinar at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 2, for teachers and education experts to discuss effective ways to teach during the pandemic.

“This is a tough challenge, but as it relates to educating our kids, it’s a challenge that we must meet,” Thurmond said. “We can do more together, we’re stronger together and together we will support the educational needs of our 6 million students.”

Newsom also announced statewide guidance for the public use of protective masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Newsom and California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell stressed that the use of protective face masks by members of the public has no scientific support as a substitute for social and physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, and said people who use masks should not develop a false sense of security about their level of immunity.

Members of the public who wear a protective mask such as an N95 mask can also still run the risk of spreading germs and risking infection if they are more lenient about other coronavirus safety protocols like washing hands with soap and warm water.

“When we speak about the potential downfalls, which we also must acknowledge, they can be that if people have these masks on, they feel somewhat immune, they feel like they can get closer to other people,” Angell said during Newsom’s daily news conference. “And when they do so, they decrease that great evidence-based intervention that we have which is physical distancing.”

Public health officials have cautioned that public use of protective masks could limit the number of masks and other personal protective equipment available to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are treating coronavirus patients in close proximity each day.

In some areas, the lack of such equipment has led to medical workers reusing masks and face shields or using makeshift items like bandanas and ski goggles to protect themselves.

Newsom said the state has, to date, distributed 35.4 million protective items like N95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves and face shields to medical facilities throughout California. The state has also received multiple allocations of protective equipment from the federal government.

“We’ll continue to do more and better in terms of our efforts to match the appropriate level of personal protective gear that is required at this moment,” Newsom said. “We are working all around the world to procure as much PPE as possible.”