BARRIE, ONT. -- The Simcoe Muskoka health unit reports a slight rise in daily COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours and two more deaths among residents who contracted the virus.

Two Simcoe County women, ages 65+ and 80+, lost their lives in recent days, bringing the region's COVID-19 death count to 235.

Meanwhile, the health unit confirmed 72 new infections Wednesday compared to 40 Tuesday, slightly higher than the number of cases logged Monday.

There are currently 822 active cases across the region, including 30 hospitalizations.

According to the health unit, the positivity rate in Simcoe County is 5.5 per cent and 2.1 per cent in Muskoka, compared to the provincial positivity rate of 7.2 per cent. Testing rates and percent positivity in Simcoe County and across Ontario have decreased in recent weeks amid the stay-at-home order and higher vaccination rates.

The region's medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said vaccinations are helping to bring down infections to levels not recorded in more than six weeks.

"The vaccines are very highly effective, and there's mounting evidence they reduce transmission to others," Dr. Gardner said Tuesday during a COVID-19 update.

Over 37 per cent of Simcoe Muskoka residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot - more than 21,000 individuals have also received their second.

The Ontario government announced Tuesday it was pausing using AstraZeneca for first shots due to an increased risk of a rare blood-clotting syndrome linked to the vaccine. Over 33,000 Simcoe Muskoka residents received their first dose of the AstraZeneca shot, which public health states is "absolutely the right thing to prevent illness, and protect to protect their families, loved ones and communities."

Starting Thursday morning, all adults 40+ will be eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine through the region's vaccination clinics.  The province also said it is developing a plan to vaccinate 12 to 17 year olds starting in June.

Earlier in the week, a new group of essential workers and people with at-risk health conditions became eligible to book their appointments.

Full details on Simcoe Muskoka's vaccine rollout are available here.

The Ontario Medical Association said the province should extend the current lockdown measures past May 20 to help curb infection rates.

However, the organization believes some restrictions on outdoor recreational activities, like golf, tennis, and basketball, should be lifted to improve people's mental and physical health.

The province has made no indication of when an announcement on the stay-at-home order would happen.

Dr. Gardner said he would support an extension on the restrictions, adding he hoped schools would reopen, but noted, "I don't know we're quite prepared yet to ensure the schools are safe."

With files from CTV Toronto