32 cases of COVID-19 variants of concern have been identified in Waterloo Region

Region of Waterloo Public Health officials said there have been 32 COVID-19 variants of concern identified locally.

Of those cases, four are confirmed as the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the U.K. Officials said the specific variant on the other 28 cases hasn't been confirmed yet.

"This is not unexpected given the growth of variants in Ontario, but underscores the imperative for Waterloo Region residents to continue practicing with upmost vigilance the recommended public health measures," a news release from the region said in part.

Regional officials said a staff member at a congregate setting screened positive for a variant of concern this weekend. An outbreak was declared at the congregate setting and there are 29 cases associated with it at this time.

"Variants of concern spread more easily than other variants and in vulnerable settings such as congregate care settings spread can be more likely," the release said. "We expect more cases will be identified, including more variants of concern, and we are working closely with the facility as well as health system partners to ensure appropriate infection prevention and control practices are in place and that they have the necessary support."

The location won't be shared publicly due to privacy reasons.

A staff member at Père-René-de-Galinée Catholic High School also screened positive for a variant of concern, the release said. Some students and staff are self-isolating as a result. No outbreak has been declared at this time.

Regional officials said all cases are treated as potential variants of concern. As such, they've increased contact tracing by lowering the threshold for who is considered a high-risk contact and recommending enhanced testing.

There have been 401 confirmed variant cases in Ontario to date. Provincial modelling released last week said the variants will likely become the predominant strain by next month.

Residents are encouraged to stay home as much as possible, avoid social gatherings outside of their immediate households, wear face coverings and wash hands often.