KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region recorded the highest number of daily new COVID-19 cases in the province Friday, adding 60 more infections.

It continues an alarming trend of rising COVID-19 infections in the region, which officials say puts the area in jeopardy of not moving into Step 2 of the province's reopening plan along with the rest of Ontario.

"We all want to move to Step 2, when we're able to. But we do need to get the spread under control," Waterloo Region's medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, said Friday. "And so, there's a possibility that we may be delayed, but that would be so that we can have a better chance of continuing to move forward."

The Delta variant continues to drive transmission in the region, with 31 more cases now confirmed as that variant. A total of 76 cases have now been confirmed as the Delta variant, although health officials have said they expect that number to be much higher, pending test confirmation.

Waterloo Region was identified as a Delta variant hot spot by the province on June 10.

As of Friday, the public health unit confirmed the Delta variant is now the dominant strain in Waterloo Region.

A total of 3,517 cases have been confirmed as variants of concern. The region's variant breakdown is as follows:

  • 3,063 are the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom and originally known as B.1.1.7
  • 11 are Beta variant, originally detected in South Africa and previously referred as B.1.315
  • 60 are the Gamma variant, initially discovered in Brazil and labelled as P.1
  • 76 are the Delta variant, first found in India and previous called B.1.617
  • 307 cases have had a mutation detected, but have not yet had a variant strain confirmed

The latest batch of cases brings Waterloo Region's cumulative caseload to 16,914, including 16,113 considered resolved, 528 active cases and 259 deaths.

Waterloo Region also had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the province on Wednesday.

STEP 2 REOPENING IN QUESTION

The surging COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region are drawing into question the possibility of moving into Step 2 of Ontario's reopening plan, which is currently slated for early July.

Waterloo Region's Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Lauckner said the area is "a canary in a coal mine" about the seriousness of the Delta variant.

"We want to move forward, everybody wants to move forward," he said Friday. "The reality is Delta has taken a foothold."

Lauckner repeated figures released earlier this week that show more than 80 per cent of Delta variant cases are among unvaccinated people.

He said the best strategy to prevent further growth of cases is to continue to vaccinate as quickly as possible.

He's also urging residents to continue to follow public health guidelines and to emphasize safer, outdoor activities.

"Our hope is that that will prevent us from backsliding," Lauckner said.

Officials said moving too quickly into Step 2 could risk forcing the region back into a total lockdown.

"Everybody in Waterloo Region would also like to go to Step 2, but there is a reality that we have the Delta variant that is very spreadable and very virulent, so our race is getting enough vaccine in arms before we lose control of the spread," said Regional Chair Karen Redman. "What nobody wants to do is to go into lockdown. And we may have to delay going into Step 2."

She added conversations with health officials and the province will continue over the coming days regarding the status of restrictions in Waterloo Region.

HOSPITALIZATIONS CONTINUE TO RISE

Five more people were admitted to area hospitals with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, with a total of 51 people now hospitalized. Of those, 18 are receiving treatment in intensive care units.

There are nine active outbreaks in Waterloo Region.

Another 1,509 COVID-19 tests were completed in the region since Tuesday, with 507,330 total tests processed since the pandemic began.

Waterloo Region's positivity rate sits at 8.0 per cent. Ontario's positivity rate is 1.4 per cent.

The reproductive rate of the virus in the community dropped from 1.3 on Tuesday to 1.2 on Friday.

Still, the seven-day moving average rate of cases per 100,000 is 10.7. By comparison, Ontario's case rate per 100,000 is only 2.5

VACCINE UPDATE

Waterloo Region administered its highest single day total of vaccines on Thursday, with 8,980 jabs put into arms. Some 444,961 total doses have now been administered.

Across the region, 73.67 per cent of adults have received at least one dose, and 15.89 per cent are fully vaccinated.

The health unit intends to ramp up its vaccine distribution next week, as the province is reallocating more doses to the region in an effort to combat the spiking COVID-19 case counts.

PROVINCE-WIDE SNAPSHOT

Ontario logged 345 new COVID-19 infections Friday and one death.

Waterloo Region led with the most new cases reported, followed by Peel and Toronto, each reporting 50 new cases.

Ontario’s rolling seven-day average now stands at 410, down from 568 at this point last week.

The latest report brings the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario to 541,525, including deaths and recoveries.

With files from CTV Toronto.