Special Montreat Minute

Special Message: A COVID-19 Update

Greetings fellow Montreaters,

The dialogue about COVID-19 seems to be ramping up as infection rates increase, more public information becomes available and, on the bright side, vaccines appear imminent. With all those issues swirling around, people (including Montreaters) are feeling uninformed, confused and, at times, angry. I’d like to address three particular issues pertinent to us here in our cove:

  • Public reporting
  • Governor’s new Executive Order
  • What we can do

Public Reporting

For North Carolinians, the state and county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have undertaken the role to collect and report COVID-19 information. In fact, the state DHHS has created a COVID dashboard (https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard) providing many levels of information, including cases and infection rates, at the county and zip code levels. Unfortunately, with Montreat’s historical zip code problem where 28757 represents the Post Office and our PO boxes and does not represent our geographic municipal boundaries, there is no reporting offered for our zip code for two reasons:

  1. NC DHHS suppresses all zip codes (of which there are many) which only have P.O. boxes.  DHHS does not want there to appear to be a cluster of cases which really represents a post office location rather than where people live. Our Town data, which includes the college, is reported of course, but it shows up in the Buncombe County figures, not zip code 28757.
  2. NC DHHS also suppresses zip codes where the population is less than 500. Although the US Census Bureau states our Montreat population at 870, the zip code population for 28757 is significantly less than that figure, and is less than 500. The US Census figures represent the true geographic boundaries of our town, whereas the geographic representation of 28757 is not representative of our boundaries. As a result, in an effort to maintain confidentiality and not mislead people in the interpretation of the data, DHHS does not publish data for zip codes with less than 500 persons, but instead rolls it up to the county level. For example, if a small community had three cases of COVID and the next week it increased to 12, that would reflect a 400% increase in infections. It does not give an accurate representation due to the instability of numbers at such small volumes. It could create significant and unwarranted concerns. The data are far more stable at the county level, thus DHHS encourages individuals to look at county rather than zip code level data for coronavirus trends.

For Montreaters (as well as other small communities), we will not see data for just our Town. Instead, please look at the Buncombe County data, particularly since most of our travel and trade is done beyond Montreat within the county.

However, another source of local data is Montreat College. As has been publicized in previous issues of the Montreat Minute, the College has been maintaining a very robust and accurate COVID-19 dashboard on their website. Many of you have been checking it regularly, and we are very grateful to the College for maintaining this important information source. To view the dashboard, CLICK HERE. By the way, yesterday was the final day of classes for the College until classes begin on January 13.

Governor’s New Executive Order Effective Today

North Carolina Governor Cooper executed another COVID-19 related Executive Order (EO) on Monday evening that goes into effect at 5:00pm this evening, Wednesday, November 25.  Its primary purpose is to strengthen face covering requirements in public places. Although it is largely focused at interior use of face masks, the Governor reiterates his earlier statement that Face Coverings must be worn outdoors if it is not possible to consistently be physically distant by more than six (6) feet from non-­household members. The EO strengthens where and when face masks must be used and outlines stricter penalties for non-compliance. For access to the new EO, CLICK HERE. It does affect Montreaters, especially related to going to stores, restaurants, gyms and sports events. Buncombe County will be issuing an updated Emergency Declaration as well, relating primarily to penalties against businesses and staff for non-compliance.

What We Can Do

Some people refer to us as being in our own little “bubble”. However, to be sure, that bubble can burst if we are not careful. This is especially so with out of town visitors as well as other locals coming to Montreat to visit, walk and use our trail system. For many of those visitors, we cannot control their actions. However, here is what CAN be done:

  • The Town will be installing several new COVID-19 signs at the entrance and the paved pathway stating that all COVID-19 regulations are in force in Montreat
  • Wear your masks when on the trails and paths. I’ve heard from many of you that others, likely visitors, do not wear masks when on our paths and trails. Give them wide berth by stepping 6’ aside or crossing over to the other side of the road when passing.
  • Follow the Governor’s restrictions when not in Montreat so you don’t bring the virus back here.

Thank you for your time in reading this lengthy newsletter. Know that the Town Council is working closely with local and state agencies in understanding, clarifying and communicating the situation here. We will continue to update you as pertinent COVID-19 information comes along. We will also be passing on vaccination information when it becomes available.

Thank you for your confidence in us. We wish you a safe and distanced Thanksgiving.

Alex Carmichael on behalf of the Town Council