OTTAWA -- CHEO is warning of an increase in respiratory illnesses in school-age children.

The hospital said in a release Monday that the emergency department's volumes are 16 per cent higher than they would be at this time of the year. They're warning families that they may have to wait in "unusual places" in order for staff to maintain physical distancing protocols.

The increase does not appear to be driven by COVID-19, however.

“Ottawa has started to see a slight uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 tests, likely indicating the beginning of a fourth wave. Yet positive COVID-19 tests in kids are low – for the moment – so something else is driving the ED surge,” said Dr. Ken Farion, CHEO's Medical Director of Strategy, Quality and Systems Improvement and an emergency department physician.

“CHEO, like other hospitals in the region, anticipated more kids coming to see us with flu-like symptoms as soon as COVID-19 restrictions eased up in the community.”

The hospital notes that other countries have seen viral surges after lockdowns lift and restrictions that kept those viruses at bay loosen.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron", Farion said these illnesses are uncommon in August and usually start popping up after kids get back to school.

"For most children, they present with cold-like symptoms: runny nose, cough, sneezing, fever, symptoms that remain indistinguishable from COVID without a test," he said. 

Farion said that with the hospital keeping COVID-19 protocals in place, they've had to resort to moving families out of the emergency waiting room as they wait to be called.

Before, there was lots of room in our waiting rooms for families to wait for their turn," he explained. "Now, we've got people in chairs down the hallways or other locations that are not our usual waiting room. We've had to ask families to wait in the car. We've used other conference rooms closer to the emergency room as waiting rooms."

CHEO says wait times are posted online and update every 15 minutes.

Viral illness is not the only surge CHEO is seeing. The hospital is also seeing surges in mental health patients and in catching up on the backlog of treatments put on hold because of the pandemic.

CHEO is urging families to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to roll up their sleeves again come flu season when the seasonal flu vaccine is available.