The COVID-19 vaccine has been instrumental in safely and effectively preventing serious illness. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

For the first time in months, Spectrum Health is seeing a steady decline in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

There’s also news that children under 5 may soon be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Spectrum Health West Michigan President Darryl Elmouchi, MD, MBA, discussed what he’s seeing and shared some hope for what’s on the horizon.

Q: How are the numbers looking at Spectrum Health?

Things have improved for the first time since November 2021. Hospitalizations are going down consistently and community positivity rates are on the decline, too.

About 300 patients with COVID-19 are being treated in Spectrum Health hospitals.

“While we’re still in a challenging situation, all trends are pointing in the right direction,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “We’re seeing less team members test positive for COVID and overall ICU census of COVID patients is decreasing too.”

Q: How is ICU capacity at the hospital?

Spectrum Health has a certain number of ICU beds and a certain number of ICU teams comprised of doctors, nurses, advanced care providers, respiratory therapists and other team members.

The hospital expanded significantly during the recent surge, doubling the number of ICU teams and ICU beds. Given the high number of people being treated for COVID-19, team members worked outside the normal footprint of their standard ICU space.

“We set a milestone yesterday,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “We have been able to shrink down to our normal footprint and no longer have patients and beds that weren’t historically ICU beds.”

Q: How is staffing at Spectrum Health?

The hospital has had to ask team members to work additional shifts or work in clinical areas that are different than their normal area. This is still the case for many.

“As we all know, staffing has been a challenge really in every industry now for the last six to 12 months,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “Ours is no exception. And so I think we’re still going to have challenges.”

Q: What do we know about vaccinations for children under 5?

Pfizer recently did a study in children ages 6 months to 5 years old, involving two doses of the vaccine. The doses were small, 1/10 of the adult dose.

The study showed the vaccine is safe. For the youngest children, it was quite effective at preventing COVID-19. For children a little bit older—closer to age 5—it’s not quite as effective.

Added to the mix was a third dose, which most experts think will be necessary.

“I strongly believe the FDA will come out in favor, as well the CDC, of adopting the two doses,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “And likely soon thereafter, the three doses for these young kids. This may be as early as the end of this month or early next month.”

Q: How are hospitalizations at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital?

Fewer children are hospitalized with COVID-19 this week compared to last week.

Clinical leaders at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital are hopeful pediatric admissions will decrease more over the coming days and weeks.

“I think we’re going to see this kind of up and down phase,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “Even though we’re over the top of the curve, we still have a lot of COVID in our community and people are still vulnerable.”

Q: Will immunity help us moving forward, and help prevent future surges?

West Michigan has a fairly high number of people who are vaccinated and boosted.

Spectrum Health physicians believe this is important in providing immunity and preventing future surges.

“We’re hopeful that people will get much milder COVID-19 and this will become more of what we call an endemic, as opposed to a pandemic where we overwhelm resources like hospitals,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “If I had to put my money down, I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be the last big surge.”