BARRIE, ONT. -- Simcoe Muskoka's medical officer of health agrees the province made the right decision closing in-person learning for students for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Ontario.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario's students would shift to remote learning following the spring break.

Ford said the move was precautionary as COVID-19 "spreads like wildfire," adding, schools are safe, but the province must "do everything possible" to bring infections down during the "critical" next few weeks.

Simcoe Muskoka's top doctor, Dr. Charles Gardner, said that while in-class learning is vital to students' mental health, he's not so sure the province will reopen schools for the remainder of the academic year.  "I truly hope so because of the benefits to children's health and mental health of being in school. I would truly hope we are able to achieve it, but I don't think we can guarantee it."

"We will keep a constant eye on the data, on case numbers, hospital capacity, and ICU admissions to determine when we get kids back in the classrooms," Ford said Monday.

Since Feb. 8, 342 COVID-19 cases have been logged in schools across Simcoe Muskoka, including 47 linked to outbreaks in schools or child care centres.

There are currently three active outbreaks at W.H. Day Public School and Holy Trinity Catholic High School, both in Bradford and Good Shepherd Catholic School in Barrie. There is also an outbreak at Georgian College in Barrie.

Dr. Gardner, also agreed the current shutdown is necessary. "We now have the variants of concern. They are quite a bit more communicable. We have a third wave that, by all accounts, appears to be worse than anything that came before."

On Tuesday, Simcoe Muskoka's health unit listed 85 new COVID-19 cases, a total of 188 so far this week. Ninety-six per cent of those are confirmed to be variants of concern.

"It will probably take us a fairly extended period of time, even with the shutdown / stay-at-home order to bring it under control," Dr. Gardner said. "To truly bring it under control, it's going to take maintaining these measures for a long period of time, and then, I think, a very careful staged approach to get out."

There are 3,670 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario Tuesday and 15 more deaths linked to the virus.

With files from The Canadian Press