Department of Defense medical personnel arrived in Grand Rapids to help with the recent surge of people hospitalized with COVID-19. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Even as Michigan battles an uptick in COVID-19 cases, glimmers of hope and positivity shine through in the final weeks of 2021.

Spectrum Health recently hit a celebratory milestone in its treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve just crested over 10,000 recoveries,” Spectrum Health West Michigan President Darryl Elmouchi, MD, said in an online call with leaders from other Michigan hospitals. “Those are 10,000 patients admitted into our hospitals since the pandemic began with COVID-19, who have successfully left the hospital.

“In spite of all the challenges we’ve had, it’s something nice to celebrate,” Dr. Elmouchi said.

Michigan has been battling a worrisome climb in COVID-19 cases, and it’s been particularly hard hit in this latest wave of the pandemic.

Spectrum Health is now treating record numbers of patients who are increasingly younger, with no or few underlying health conditions.

This past week, however, health teams added some top-level talent in the fight.

Spectrum Health recently welcomed a team of 20 health care providers—physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists—from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The team will augment care at Spectrum Health hospitals in Grand Rapids.

“I honestly had goosebumps meeting them,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “They were amazing. … We feel lucky and blessed and so thankful they’re here.

The delta variant remains the driving force for the current wave of infections.

Doctors and researchers are still unsure what impact a newly identified variant, omicron, will have on the pandemic.

The vaccine remains the best defense against COVID-19, Dr. Elmouchi reinforced.

“The best way for this to end is for all of us to be vaccinated and follow the simple things,” Dr. Elmouchi said, mentioning how masks and social distancing make a difference in reducing the spread of the virus.

Of the hundreds of patients currently being treated at Spectrum Health hospitals for COVID-19, the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated.

“Younger, healthier people are showing up in our hospitals acutely ill,” Dr. Elmouchi said.

Vaccines work, he said.

“They’re incredibly safe and incredibly effective—and the only way we’re going to protect our community and our health care resources,” he said.

The advice is especially critical now that intensive care units are operating beyond capacity.

“Based on the number of people in our ICU and what we’re seeing in the community, we anticipate that December of 2021 will set a sad record for the number of deaths we’ve seen through this entire pandemic,” Dr. Elmouchi said.

In a recent visit to an area of a hospital converted into an intensive care unit, Dr. Elmouchi saw the effects of the pandemic etched on the many faces there.

“Tears,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “Tears from our team members who have been burning the midnight oil, seeing so much death. Taking on extra shifts. … Tears from a family who was about to lose a loved one.”

It’s happening every day, in every hospital.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” he said.