KITCHENER -- As the number of active COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region continues to rise, hospitals are monitoring capacity to handle a potential surge.

The region's COVID-19 dashboard shows there are five people in hospital from the disease, but the official number doesn't include how many suspected cases could be in the hospitals.

Officials with Grand River Hospital said there are 19 people with suspected cases in their hospital.

Meanwhile, officials are also monitoring overall bed capacity.

St. Mary's General Hospital has three COVID-19 patients, and 10 suspected cases.

But, as of Monday, their overall acute care beds were at 97 per cent capacity, while their ICU was at 82 per cent capacity.

The Grand River Hospital's ICU is 89 to 95 per cent full.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital officials said their acute care beds are at 95 per cent capacity. They have fewer than five confirmed or suspected cases of the disease. Their ICU is 60 per cent full.

Lee Fairlcough, president of St. Mary's, said COVID-19 is a real threat in the community as case numbers continue to climb.

"I think that our ability to maintain non-COVID care will really depend on how we are able to control COVID in the community," she said. "At the moment, our goal as a health system is to maintain those services as much as we possibly can. As we see cases rise in the community the way they are, we are increasingly worried about our ability to do that."

Fairclough also said front line workers living in the community are at a greater risk of infection. If essential workers are sick, that could limit hospitals' ability to provide care, she said.

"I hope what people can see, by working as a community to reduce the spread of COVID, it's going to help our likelihood as a health system, to care for people for non-COVID reasons, which is very, very important," Fairclough said.

Dr. Ahmad Firas Khalid, a professor in health policy at Wilfrid Laurier University, said increased demand for hospital beds is a major concern, not only because of the potential for more coronavirus cases, but particularly because flu season is on the way.

He also said burnout in health care workers is also a concern.

"Can we get more capacity built up within the system?" he said. "What I mean by that is, can we get more health care providers recruited to the front lines, to cover some of the shifts that are happening. We are hearing reports in Ontario that nurses are being overburdened, under-resourced, burnt out."

Dr. Khalid said hospitals could increase their staff levels by bringing in students or international medical graduates who don't have Canadian certifications.

Fairclough agreed that people are feeling fatigued as the pandemic continues.

"I would just again try to appeal to people what we want to be able to continue that care that people so desperately need, especially because some of that got delayed in the first wave," she said. "If that can help instil a sense that need to exercise all those precautions, we would really be grateful."

Waterloo Region reported 44 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the fourth day in a row of case counts increasing by more than 40.

Ontario also set another single-day record in new cases on Thursday, reporting 1,575 more.