Dr. Mark Atkinson

Dr. Mark Atkinson

A second Alachua County Public School (ACPS) district custodian is dead from COVID-19.

That announcement at the beginning of the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting on Tuesday night resonated as several pediatricians and UF Health epidemiologists gave personal accounts of treating patients of all ages and watching local ICU beds fill up with COVID-19 patients.

In a more than three-hour-long meeting, the SBAC voted unanimously to require students to wear masks for the first two weeks of school.

After the approval of the updated and amended fall 2021 COVID-19 response plan that included the new language that students will wear masks from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24, ACPS Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon thanked the medical professionals, most of whom had children of their own enrolled in Alachua County schools. She also invited them to come back to the Aug. 17th regular meeting to give the SBAC an update.

"We appreciate your information and anything you can share," Simon said.

It was that input from scientists and experts that SBAC attorney David Delaney said might protect the SBAC from backlash from Gov. Ron DeSantis as the mandate defies his order that all students have access to in-person learning and not be required to wear masks by school districts.

According to Delaney, pressure from Tallahassee might be off because the SBAC made a decision based on the current emergency status that has been communicated by local physicians and hospitals.

"It is significant info from professionals who delivered extremely significant facts," he said. "From a legal perspective, emergency transport capacity has been exceeded."

SBAC Chair Leanetta McNealy said the move was worth the financial risk.

"I'd rather they come after our money than we lose our students because we are not listening to our scientists," she said. 

After the vote, UF faculty member Dr. Mark Atkinson, a 37-year-veteran physician specializing in research to cure Type 1 Diabetes and a professor for the UF Department of Pathology and Pediatrics, came to the podium and apologized for being late.

Atkinson said that NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci enlisted his help in setting up research at UF Health in Gainesville, Jacksonville and at hospitals in Tampa to follow 1,200 patients.

"COVID is not a joke," Atkinson said.

He held up a face mask and asked the board members if they had ever held a dying child. 

"It is hard, but the worst part is the talk with the mother, the father that says to you why," he said. 

Atkinson called it "disgusting" that people are still debating the effectiveness of masks and applauded the board's decision: "No guilt on your hands for having to answer why."

Mainstreet Daily News Reporter

Suzette Cook is a Mainstreet Daily News reporter who has been a community journalist for more than 30 years.

(10) comments


I believe a coordinated effort was launched last night to defy Desantis EO. By having 10 UF doctors say that Gainesville is in a state of emergency with hospitals the lawyer then said now they have a leg to stand on. The last doctor sealed the deal when he said Dr Fauci contacted him to set up coordinated tracking of 1200 patients. Since last night 4 more counties have defied the order. I think people should know what is going on.


Has Atkins held an Alachua county child dying from covid? IF yes was this child a healthy child with preexisting condition?


2018-2019 the flu killed 477 children(prob with multiple comorbities). No mask mandates.

Covid has killed 337 children that were gravely sick according to John’s Hopkins. “wE mUsT prOteCt tHe cHilDreN.

McNealy should be ashamed of herself, ignoring the facts and data while engaging in politics and risking the funding of our children.


I love the MainSt Daily News publication, I mean no offense, but, Mark Atkinson is a clinical scientist (PhD), not a physician (MD). In his role as a diabetes clinical scientist (researcher), I find it difficult to believe that he's held dying children from COVID. You might consider researching this to ensure it is factual.


perhaps you need to read further!

That announcement at the beginning of the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting on Tuesday night resonated as several pediatricians and UF Health epidemiologists gave personal accounts of treating patients of all ages and watching local ICU beds fill up with COVID-19 patients.


Perhaps you should read my comment. I’m not debating PHYSICIANS account of Covid related experiences. However, Mark Atkinson is not one of them.


Thank you Alachua County School Board for caring about our children!


My research team at Johns Hopkins worked with the nonprofit FAIR Health to analyze approximately 48,000 children under 18 diagnosed with Covid in health-insurance data from April to August 2020. Our report found a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia.


So children with pre-existing medical conditions, and those who do not know that they have a medical condition that puts them at risk are just okay dying?


We just had 2 14- year old twins die within 24 hours of each other with no underlying conditions

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