KITCHENER -- Region of Waterloo Public Health has confirmed its first case of the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa.

There were also 114 new COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday and another death related to the disease.

That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the region to 12,939, including 12,038 recoveries and 246 deaths.

The region's COVID-19 dashboard shows 901 cases have screened positive for a variant of concern. Of those, 40 are confirmed as the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the U.K., and one is confirmed as the B.1.351 variant.

Chris Bauch, an epidemiology expert at the University of Waterloo, said he's keeping a close eye on variant cases in the region.

"Because these are more transmissible, the same kind of things that worked before are not quite as effective as they used to be," he said.

Bauch believes new measures, like wearing masks outdoors, are now necessary.

"For children going to parks, that's one thing they can do, especially since they are used to mask-wearing in schools now," he said. "It's not a big jump for them to wear masks at the park.

Bauch said modelling and prediction local case counts over the next few weeks will be difficult because of immeasurable factors like gatherings and people not following COVID-19 rules as closely as they did last year.

"I'm fairly certain that we'll continue to see some rise," he said. "We haven't hit the plateau yet."

The number of active cases rose to 639, the highest number of active cases in the region since Jan. 25, when there were 661.

There are 31 people in hospital receiving treatment for COVID-19, including 13 in the ICU.

Hospital officials also provided an update on ICU numbers in the region. These include patients with COVID-19-related illness, meaning some cases are considered resolved but remain in intensive care.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital has five patients, Grand River Hospital has 10, Guelph General Hospital has six and St. Mary's General Hospital has two ICU patients.

There are 18 active outbreaks in the region.

On Wednesday, Ontario reported another 4,156 cases of COVID-19.

The seven-day average for new cases has now crossed 4,000, sitting at 4,002. That's the highest it has ever been in Ontario.

To date, Ontario has reported 398,835 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 354,417 recoveries and 7,610 deaths.

There are 36,808 active cases in the province.