BARRIE, ONT. -- The Simcoe Muskoka public health unit reports a downward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases week over week, but concern surrounds the coronavirus variant, with 92 cases confirmed and 77 more possible in the region.

According to a Public Health Ontario report, Simcoe County has the most variant cases in the province.

Dr. Colin Lee, Simcoe Muskoka associate medical officer of health, said the study isn't surprising since the variant tests were taken at the height of the Roberta Place outbreak, where 69 people died, and 235 others became infected.

Seventy-seven of the 92 cases across Simcoe County are linked to the Barrie long-term care home.

"We are working very hard to aggressively get a hold of every related case and contact, and by in large, we've been successful in limiting its spread," Lee said.

He added another spike in cases is possible. "Variant or not, we should be prepared for a third wave. The question is whether or not the variant will take hold and speed up that timeline."

Meanwhile, health officials report 44 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and three deaths.

The health unit says two women over 80 died at Bradford Valley Care Community, and a woman 65 to 79 passed away at the Barrie hospital.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections has dwindled week over week. The health unit lists 196 total cases for this week, compared to the week prior, which saw 301 and the week before that, 444.

"What is happening right now is reflective of the month of January, and if we continue with this, we could bring it right now to a level where it's not going to spread very easily," Lee said of the case numbers on Friday.

On Friday, the health unit listed a dozen active institutional outbreaks on its website. The outbreak at Muskoka Shores Care Community in Gravenhurst has been declared over.

Meanwhile, 19,306 doses of the vaccine have been given to health care workers and residents in long-term care and retirement homes across the region. Many are waiting for their second doses.

Lee said it would be at least six to seven months before everyone in the region is immunized.