OTTAWA -- Since Ontario first broke 4,000 new daily COVID-19 cases on April 9, the province has recorded just four days below that number. 

Three came in the past week. 

It’s a spark of hope for a province inundated with hospitalized patients and facing another four weeks of stay-at-home orders. 

"What we have seen is a reduction in growth of the number of new cases per day, so some early indications that the curve is starting to flatten," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and member of Ontario’s Vaccination Task Force. 

Locally, experts say there’s even more reason for optimism. 

"Early indications are that we are starting to decline. We have that magic R number below 1, for about a week, so early indications are that we’re headed in the right direction," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital and member of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table. 

Data from Google Mobility shows the provincial stay-at-home order is already impacting the city. 

Fewer people are visiting retail stores, grocery stores, or workplaces. Even park visits are down as well. 

Dr. Manuel says the change in habits is critical to dropping cases to manageable levels. 

"We’re approaching (the mobility) levels we were at in January, so that’s good. Positivity remains high, wastewater is moderate, so in general we’re seeing at least not increasing but early signs of decreasing," he said. 

Despite positive signs in the capital, it’s tough to say if Ontario is also on the downswing. 

"Six weeks of stay-at-home is looking like what is necessary. In Ottawa I think we’re doing ahead of that; Toronto is having a more difficult time than we are," Dr. Manuel said. 

The majority of the new cases in the province continue to centre around the Greater Toronto Area, notably, the city itself and Peel Region, where hospital capacity continues to be overburdened and patients are being transported to hospitals across the province. 

"It’s going to take some time to decompress the hospitals. This will take weeks and weeks and weeks to decompress the hospitals, even after the case numbers start to decline," Dr. Bogoch said.  

"One of the challenges is even if we start to peak, and start to come down the other side of the mountain, you’re still going to have 4.000 new cases per day, then 3.000 new cases per day, then 2.000 new cases per day; that’s a lot. That’s a lot of patients for a healthcare system to absorb," he added. 

In Ottawa there are over 100 COVID-19 patients in hospital, 24 of them in the ICU. 

Dr. Manuel says 280 staff at The Ottawa Hospital have been redeployed to help COVID treatment. 

"In The Ottawa Hospital and the Ottawa hospitals, we’ve changed the practice of care more in the last few weeks, than any other time in the last hundred years - other than last spring. So, it’s a massive change, massive disruption and it will take a while to get back to normal," he said. 

For small businesses, the stagnant numbers across Ontario are hard to swallow. 

"It’s frustrating for small business owners to have sacrificed everything, and taken the most amount of precautions that we possibly could, and see that it’s had no effect, our no wanted effect of reducing our numbers down to nothing," Ottawa small business owner Michael Wood said. 

Wood says small businesses he’s spoken to understand the need for strong public health measures, but extensions to the provincial stay-at-home order make it challenging.

Many businesses in the capital were forced to close, or dramatically alter their operations, when the city went into the province’s red zone just over a month ago. 

It will be at least another month before they’re allowed to re-open. 

"It leaves a whole bunch of questions in our mind, we’ve closed where allegedly the new cases were coming from. Restaurants and patios and weddings and so on and so forth, and the numbers aren’t changing," Wood said.  

Despite the early signs of improvement, health experts caution it’s still far too early to be considering removing lockdown measures or planning how to re-open once the provincial stay-at-home order expires on May 20. 

"It is a bit of wait and see, we are in the very early stages to talk about re-opening," Dr. Manuel said.  

"You can’t re-open too soon, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal too soon, you’ve got to continue to do this until it’s safe to re-open," added Dr. Bogoch.