KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region's top doctor says she's growing concerned with the number of local COVID-19 cases starting to rise.

Speaking at the region's COVID-19 update on Friday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said officials have seen a growing number of cases in the last three days. On Thursday, they reported 69 more cases, the highest case count increase in nearly three weeks.

This was passed on Friday with 71 new cases confirmed.

"I am becoming concerned," Dr. Wang said. "We will have to watch our indicators closely."

Dr. Wang said the region has seen its incidence rate rise to 50 to 55 cases per 100,000 people a week. Last week, that number was at 45 to 50 cases per 100,000 people.

She added the reproductive rate, which currently sits at 1.1, will rise if there are more cases in the region.

Although the number of active outbreaks in the region has dropped recently, Dr. Wang said they're monitoring an increasing number of workplaces and other settings. She also said there are now outbreaks linked to variants of concern.

"When there are more cases, there are more outbreaks," she said.

Public health is treating all cases as possible variants of concern and have ramped up contact tracing on all cases.

"I appreciate people are feeling concerned about variant cases," Dr. Wang said. "To date, a total of 67 variant cases have been identified in Waterloo Region. Of those 67, seven have been confirmed as b117."

She said public health measures will work against the variants of concern by treateing every case as though it is a variant.

"We have to be more vigilant than ever before," she said.

Dr. Wang continues to encourage people to avoid enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces and crowds. They should also wear face coverings that fit snugly, maintain physical distancing and stay home when sick.

"I am concerned about the possibility that our case rates may be starting to move in the wrong direction," Dr. Wang said.

She also said contact tracing has shown people are increasing social contacts and gathering with people outside of their households.

"I think it has been a difficult to understand that there's these lifting of restrictions on businesses and schools have gone back to in-person learning," Dr. Wang said. "At the same time, we need to try to do our best to minimize our contact."

She said people need to remember to maintain distance and wear a mask if they are meeting with friends and family outside of their immediate household.

"I know it's been a long road and I know it's hard to not be with family and friends," Dr. Wang said. "But, we are in an extremely precarious time."

There's no timeline at this point when things might return to normal. Dr. Wang said significant restrictions will remain in place until most of the population is vaccinated.

"We know that vaccine is the most effective way to get there and really the only way to get there," she said.

Provincial modelling has shown that following public health advice now could help improve things in the summer.

"We do have a good chance of better days ahead and we can get there, we just have to keep up with those very strict measures for the next few months," Dr. Wang said.