LONDON, ONT. -- A disappointing dose of reality for everyone hoping to share time with family and friends this holiday season, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) now advises all festive gatherings be held 'virtually' this year.

Wednesday’s record 46 new COVID-19 cases in London and Middlesex County tops the previous record of 38 set the day before.

The new advice means skipping festive gatherings and continuing to physically distance from extended family and friends over the holidays.

"Those multi-generational gatherings are exactly the gatherings we know spread COVID quickly, so we really encourage people to think of alternative ways to get together this year," explains Dr. Mackie.

Flags are at half-mast outside University Hospital (UH), where the COVID-19 outbreak continues to claim lives.

Three more deaths on Tuesday at the hospital brings the death toll to nine.

"We’ve heard rumours, they’re not confirmed, that holiday gatherings were part of the issue in the outbreak we’re seeing right now (at UH)," Mackie tells CTV News. "If that’s the case, it is a very serious problem, and one that would explain much of what is happening."

Dr. Mackie adds that the record case counts in recent days will likely see the region move from the Yellow 'protect' category to the Orange 'restrict' category of provincial pandemic restrictions next week.

London and Middlesex County could enter the Red ‘control’ category the following week, if new case counts don’t slow down.

"If you are going to gather with family, please do it outside and keep your distance."

Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-term Care will announce if London and Middlesex County slide out of the yellow category on Friday.