JONESBORO — The Sun asked Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Arkansas State University campus, questions about the recent surge in COVID-19 numbers and his thoughts on what actions should occur.

Q: Do you think vaccinations should be mandatory for medical personnel, police, deputies and fire department workers?

A: We would hope that an education of the risks and benefits of the vaccine vs. getting sick with the disease would be enough for most people, but in this climate we are seeing a lot of resistance. Much of it is on baseless, incorrect information that is spreading faster than the virus. However, mandating something is a slippery slope. A lot of thought needs to go into a decision to create a mandate, especially when it affects such a large population. A mask mandate has little to no negative consequences to an individual, but the positive benefits are great for the wearer and the people they come into contact with. A safe and effective vaccine also protects the individual and those around them, but still carries a higher risk than wearing a mask. Private organizations and institutions can make their own decisions on things like masks and vaccines. For example, Mercy hospital (a private hospital in Fort Smith) is now requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID. State law does not allow masking or vaccine mandates for public employees (K-12 schools, universities, state employees, etc.) so it becomes an individual decision, and you hope the individual makes an informed decision.

Q: Does the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine require its employees to get vaccinated?

A: No, and fortunately it wasn’t a conversation we had to have. At this point 98 percent of our employees and 99.5 percent of our students are fully vaccinated against COVID. You should remember though, our employees are different – they work at a medical school. They work in an environment centered around evidence-based medicine and research. Having honest, open conversations that are based in scientific facts are literally what we do every day. Need more proof? Look no further than the recent AMA study that showed that 96 percent of physicians in the United States are vaccinated against COVID. This is the group that knows the most about the virus and deals with it almost daily.

Q: I’m mainly concerned that the Craighead jail now has 17 cases after going for months without any.

A: Not surprised at all, and we will see more. Remember, the delta variant is different. It’s much more contagious. With the original COVID strain one infected person typically would infect 2-3 other people, with the delta variant one infected person will typically infect 6-8 other people. That’s why you see a large increase in cases in a short amount of time. It happens quickly. Everything is OK, until it’s not.