BARRIE, ONT. -- For months, Muskoka residents have asked for a separation from Simcoe County amid rising COVID-19 case numbers and the restrictions that follow.

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith, who is also the president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, endorses the move to separate cottage country from its neighbour to the south.

"It's been a consistent message. It's been something we've talked about with the province since last fall where we've seen a dramatically different level of COVID cases in Muskoka versus Simcoe County," Smith said.

The Simcoe Muskoka health unit reports the area to the north holds just 3.5 per cent of the region's COVID-19 cases.

Smith said it's time Muskoka was treated fairly. "Simply tying two places together because of convenience of 'that's where the health unit lines are drawn' doesn't make a lot of sense."

The push to cut the ties with Simcoe County comes as the province readies to lift the lockdown order and shift the region back to the government's tiered restrictions system.

Smith said he has reached out to the premier, the minister of health, and the local medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner.

But Gardner maintains it's safer for Muskoka residents to remain under the same measures as the rest of the region.

"If we subdivided the area - if the province were to allow that - that could very well be undermined, and it could very well have transmission as people travel from southern Simcoe to seek services in north Simcoe and Muskoka," Gardner said.

The province's lockdown will expire on Feb. 16.

With files from CTV's Rob Cooper