The Simcoe Muskoka health unit reports 58 new COVID-19 cases across the region and one new variant case, for a total of 91 on Thursday.

The health unit lists 60 more possible variant cases but are awaiting test results for confirmation.

According to a new report, more than five per cent of positive COVID-19 cases collected in January in a major Ontario study tested positive for highly infectious coronavirus variants of concern.

Of the 1,880 positive samples from Jan. 20 that were analyzed, 103, or 5.5 per cent were confirmed or highly likely to be either the UK B.1.1.7 or South African B.1.353 variants of concern.

Of the 103, 89 were from the Simcoe Muskoka public health unit, with 85 of those directly linked to the Roberta Place long-term care home outbreak, where over half of the home's residents have now died.

Other locations that generated variant cases on Jan. 20 were Peel (six cases), Toronto (five cases), and York Region, Waterloo, and Durham, all with single cases.

Dr. Michael Lisi, chief of staff with Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, says variants are a definite concern because they can "spread faster than the original strain of COVID and may have a higher mortality rate."

Institutional outbreaks

The Simcoe Muskoka health unit has nine long-term care and retirement home COVID-19 outbreaks listed, while the outbreaks at The Pines in Bracebridge and IOOF in Barrie ended earlier this week.

In Barrie, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre has two units with COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in nearly 50 infections.

The Horizon Program for Geriatric Psychiatry unit at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care has at least 23 infections. The centre says five people have died amid the outbreak at the Penetanguishene hospital.

The health unit lists an outbreak at Bear Creek Secondary School, where there are three confirmed COVID-19 cases. The school is open to a small cohort of students with special needs and educators.

Schools Reopening

On Wednesday, the province gave the green light for nearly all schools to fully reopen.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said students in 13 public health units, including Simcoe Muskoka, would resume in-person learning on Monday.

Students in York Region, Toronto and Peel Region will return a week later.

With files from CP24's Chris Herhalt