The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner reported Tuesday the first cases of a variant of concern have been found in Muskoka.

Two are linked to an agricultural location and five are from a food and beverage institution. Dr. Gardner said all seven are awaiting further confirmation, so it’s not known yet what variant of concern they are. “We don’t give more specific information of location or anything that might help identify the individuals,” he added. “We have to protect privacy.”

According to SMDHU’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are 171 cases of B.1.1.7 – originally found in the UK – in its medical region. There are also 206 COVID-19 cases that have screened positive for a variant of concern. A second test is needed before they can be confirmed as a variant.

Other than B.1.1.7, no other variants of concern have been reported in Simcoe Muskoka.

He said the “take away message” should be to assume it’s in your community or neighbourhood. Dr. Gardner added that even though the stay-at-home order has been lifted, he suggested acting as though it’s still in place is a good way to fight against the variant.

“We’re seeing an upturn now in our cases,” he said about what’s happening in Simcoe Muskoka, adding that a “large number” of the new cases are tied to outbreaks. He added that there’s usually a “lag period” of one to two weeks before cases “materialize.”

“I actually think it’s a week too soon to indicate it’s due to us moving out of shutdown and into (the Red-Control zone),” Dr. Gardner said about the new cases. “We’ve seen this in a week rather than two, which I think speaks to the potential impact of the variants of concern.”

“What we’re seeing is the beginning of another wave,” Dr. Gardner said. He went on to say that he’s “very seriously” considering recommending Simcoe Muskoka goes back into lockdown. “I think you’re more effective if you act early than if you wait for it to become well-entrenched,” he said.