KITCHENER -- A doctor who practices in the GTA and Waterloo Region said he supports a directive from the province moving chronically ill hospital patients into long-term care homes to free up space.

Moves can be made without patient consent, provincial health officials announced Wednesday. A doctor needs to agree the patient's medical needs can be met in a long-term care or retirement setting.

Dr. Asim Masood, the chief of staff at Cambridge Memorial Hospital, said he's seen the growing need to free up beds for patients with COVID-19.

"This directive supports the use of our beds more appropriately for the sicker, acute patients," Dr. Masood said. "It is a welcomed relief."

Hospitalizations are at a record high in the region, partly due to out-of-region transfers.

"The good news is Waterloo-Wellington has been spared, but we are playing our part," Dr. Masood said.

As of Wednesday, the region reported 71 COVID-19-positive patients in hospital, including 33 in the ICU.

Last week, officials said 37 patients were transferred to Waterloo Region hospitals from the GTA.

Dr. Masood said patients, both locally and from out-of-town, are younger and sicker. He said it's taking a toll on hospital staff.

"I've seen seasoned colleagues really fatigued and tired and almost in disbelief right now in some parts of Ontario," he said. "I am concerned, but I think we have been wonderful at pivoting for whatever comes our way."

Despite an increase in patients, Dr. Masood said emergency rooms are safe. He encouraged anyone in medical distress, or with worsening COVID-19 symptoms, should go to a hospital for treatment.

"I'd rather people err on the side of caution and come in sooner rather than later," Dr. Masood said.

Hospital officials are expected to update Waterloo Region's COVID-19 hospitalization numbers, including transfers from outside of the region, on Thursday afternoon.

With files from