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Montreat will not be a vaccination site, ZIP code discussions continuing

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
Montreat Town Hall

Montreat will not be a site for COVID-19 vaccinations, town commissioner Tom Widmer announced. This follows a Buncombe County and state announcement that starting Feb. 1, residents aged 65 or older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Approximately 18% of Montreat residents are 65 years old or older, according to 2019 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mayor Tim Helms noted that Montreat College has continued to relay its case information to town officials. Each case and individual who had contact with positive cases has quarantined, Helms said, with the college reporting six total cases as of Jan. 14.

“The college is continuing to stay on top of that,” Helms said. “I’m very proud of all their efforts.”

Both Widmer and Helms urged older residents to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated, with a subsequent Jan. 21 county announcement of a waitlist. 

Complementing its vaccination efforts, Widmer added that the town held a meeting with its postmaster Tim Bryson regarding issues with the town’s designation as a P.O. box-only ZIP code.

Because of this designation, COVID-19 cases with the town’s 28757 ZIP code are suppressed by the state and Montreat residents are required to list Black Mountain’s 28711 ZIP code while registering to vote.

Widmer, who says issues with the ZIP code expand beyond voter registration and COVID-19 cases, said the meeting with Bryson was "not encouraging." A resolution is “probably not” going to come from postal services.

Town Administrator Alex Carmichael has reached out to the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government for guidance and “relief to that situation.” The town will also communicate with other state municipalities with the same designation to better understand how to handle the situation, Widmer said.

A Dec. 31 document expanding on issues with the town’s ZIP code noted that Montreat is also “trying to arrange audience” with Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry.

The document noted that it is “unlikely we will ever change” how COVID-19 cases are recorded by N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. A meeting with California-based firm ESRI told the town that it was “a geographic problem, but it’s also a bureaucratic problem as agencies don’t talk to each other.”

ESRI representatives told Montreat to work with Buncombe County and USPS and included a seven-action plan that “we’re working on now.”

Former commissioner Mary Standaert, who reached out to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in 2018, told commissioners that “Montreat Address Fatigue” was beneficial to the town in finding a resolution.

This contrasts statements made by commissioners, who urged residents to remain patient.

“We have already encountered people who are experiencing ‘Montreat Address’ fatigue,” the document says. “Until the issue is resolved, maybe we just need to accept the fact that, according to the county and state, we do live in the 28711 ZIP code. Hopefully, we will one day be able to align the data to better represent us in Montreat 28757.”