ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- In-person classes are temporarily cancelled, and dozens of recruits are in quarantine amid a COVID-19 outbreak at the Ontario Police College (OPC) in Aylmer, Ont.

"The police college is creating a jump in our numbers this week," says Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health for Southwestern Public Health (SWPH).

The outbreak at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ont. has grown to 67 cases in a week

The Ministry of the Solicitor General says all those who have tested positive since Feb. 22 are self-isolating.

In addition, the ministry said in an email statement, " help prevent the potential for further spread, all in-person instruction at the college will be paused for 14 days, and recruits who test positive will remain at the college to self-isolate."

Lock added that seven of the 67 cases have not shown up on the SWPH dashboard as those recruits have returned to their own jurisdiction. Their numbers are reflected in their home health unit's case count.

The ministry says the college is working closely with SWPH to manage the outbreak.

Lock feels this outbreak is a good example of how quickly the COVID-19 virus can spread when people are in close quarters.

"The OPC is a college dorm-type situation," says Lock. "They isolate the recruits as best they could in separate pods. However they share activities like common dining rooms and common instructors. When people live together and you have the introduction of the virus into that setting, it reflects how quickly it spreads."

Now that SWPH is in the orange-restrict zone, Lock warns while "large gatherings can be fun," this shows "things can change on a dime."

The recent OPC outbreak has caused a recent spike in cases in the Elgin and Oxford counties.

The incidence rate is now 40.2 cases per 100,000 residents, which could put the region over the threshold and back into the red-restrict zone.

It is something that worries the Downtown Development Board (DDB) in St. Thomas, Ont.

"It would be a huge blow," says Earl Taylor, chair of the DDB.

"There is a bit of euphoria with businesses on Facebook now saying 'We're open! Come and visit us!' Businesses have to hire people and get the schedule in place to be in the store and in restaurants. To then be locked down and be out of business again would be devastating."

That's exactly what happened recently in Lambton County.

Lock cited Lambton's close proximity to Windsor-Essex and the U.S. as reasons why they jumped so quickly. She is optimistic SWPH can remain in the orange-restrict zone.

"The government tries to change a minimum every two weeks because it is hard on businesses and residents if we 'Yo-Yo,'" says Lock.

"We have another week of grace to get our numbers in a better situation. Where the ministry puts on the brake is if they see the variant spreading, but we haven't seen it in our locale, which is a good news."

She feels if the outbreak at OPC is contained and there is no further spread, SWPH should be able to remain in their current zone.

The ministry says the college is trying to keep recruits active by looking at virtual options for courses during their 14-day break.