BARRIE, ONT. -- COVID-19 cases across Simcoe Muskoka are on the rise, and public health officials warn that could mean stricter measures once again.

Dr. Colin Lee, an associate medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), says the infection rates jumped 25 per cent since last week.

"This is very concerning as it may signal the start of a more rapid spread and exponential increase of cases. We're hoping that's not the case, but it does have a distinct possibility." Lee says there has also been an increase in the number of outbreaks at workplaces in recent weeks.

The medical expert cautions the surging numbers could push Simcoe Muskoka to join its neighbour, York Region, in the red-restrict level under Ontario's COVID-19 response framework.

"I think there's a real risk we may move into the red zone in the next couple of weeks in order to decrease the spread if this continues," he says.

The region is currently listed in the orange zone. A move to red would mean closures similar to those in the spring.

"Everyone should assume everyone they meet could have COVID," Lee says. "Assume the person next to you at the grocery store or at work is infected with COVID, so you don't let your guard down."

With the holiday season upon us, public health officials are strongly urging people to limit contact to only those within your immediate household. Lee takes it a step further, saying this year, it's essential to keep extended family at bay, making contact virtually.

"We need to ensure that no more fuel is provided to COVID over the holidays," he says.