MONTREAL -- Amid all of the recent hopeful-looking COVID-19 statistics in Montreal, there’s an outlier that is worrying doctors.

The emergency rooms at 10 out of the city’s 21 hospitals are operating at or above capacity, according to health statistics.

That should be a serious red flag, says one doctor, since it will make it increasingly difficult to keep ERs separated into “hot” and “cold” zones—a key infection control measure that has been a big part of Montreal’s strategy since the pandemic arrived.

Though COVID rates may have gone down, ERs are getting busier as people finally seek treatment for problems they’ve postponed, doctors say.

"In March and April... many people avoided emergency rooms out of fear of contracting the virus,” says Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease expert.

In some people’s cases, “that care can no longer wait,” he said. “In others…that fear has gone away.”

Either way, the result is that emergency rooms are filling back up. 

"Of course, that’s concerning,” Oughton says, since maintaining different zones is much easier when there’s more space to work with.

Creating those zones was one of the first measures taken at the beginning of Montreal’s outbreak. One local doctor, who spoke to CTV on condition of anonymity, said the separations have been largely effective.

But the doctor said it’s becoming difficult or even impossible to maintain them as the numbers soar.

The McGill University Health Centre told CTV that the hospital network follows rigorous triage protocols and that its emergency rooms are safe.

Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horatio Arruda, said this week that he knows preventing infection can be easier in theory than in practice. In reality, he said, it is “very difficult to apply.”

He didn’t say how the government plans to handle ER overcrowding. 

Dr. Oughton said a strategy will need to be put in place.

“This trend cannot continue…if we are going to have the capacity to deal with both our day-to-day business and COVID-19-related cases,” he said. “You know, in some senses this is exactly the wrong time for this surge to be happening."