As the province lifts restrictions for Quebec City and other parts of Quebec, a regional municipal county (MRC) in the Eastern Townships will be placed under emergency public health measures starting Wednesday at midnight.
In recent days, Le Granit, which includes Lac-Mégantic, has become the area with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
That's why it will go from being an orange zone to having tighter restrictions than most of the province's red zones currently have in place.
All high schools and non-essential businesses in the area will shut down and the curfew will go back to 8 p.m. The new measures will remain in effect until at least May 17.
"We have outbreaks in many [sectors], that is in schools, in businesses, in restaurants, we even have some in elder homes, so we have cases in different places," Dr. Alain Poirier, public health director for the Townships, said in a news conference Tuesday.
According to the latest government data, Le Granit currently has 172 active cases of COVID-19. That's about 807 active cases per 100,000 residents.
That means more than half of the COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Townships are now in Le Granit, which accounts for less than 10 per cent of the population of the Townships. Just under 30 per cent of the region's hospitalizations also come from the county.
Cases may be coming from Beauce, authorities say
"The very moment there were a lot of cases in the Beauce, it became realistic to think there would be cases here too," said Poirier.
The Beauce, which was previously the region with the highest number of cases per capita, has been under increased public health measures since last month.
During that time, Le Granit has been an orange zone and Eastern Townships health authorities suspect people took advantage of the close proximity between the two regions to eat at restaurants or shop at non-essential businesses.
"Often, it might seem practical to travel a few kilometres away to access some of the services they want," said Marielle Fecteau, prefect for the MRC du Granit.
"So this is one of the factors but not the only one."
Health authorities are cautioning restaurateurs in the rest of the Townships to remain cautious and to ensure that they do not allow people from Le Granit to dine in at their establishments.
The rules for yellow and orange zones allow locals to dine at restaurants, but they must show proof of residency. In red zones, restaurants may offer only takeout food.
"Restaurant owners across the province need to ask where people are coming from," said Poirier.
"I know some people cheat here and there, but if we want to regain control, what we're asking is not that people are perfect but to reduce that cheating and ask themselves what they can do to reduce transmission."
Poirier is also asking residents to wear surgical masks instead of cloth masks, especially when heading into businesses or other indoor public spaces.