NC’s Restricted Alcohol Sales Met with Curious Indifference

NC’s Restricted Alcohol Sales Met with Curious Indifference

Most North Carolina residents got the same notification this week: the state will cut off alcohol sales after 11 p.m. Pretty much every restriction these days leads to protests, lawsuits or a combination of the two. But Gov. Cooper’s order which imposes alcohol-related restrictions hasn’t received the same reactions.

Sure, bar and restaurant owners have voiced concerns with restrictions on their businesses in general. But those concerns aren’t that different from the concerns most business owners have already voiced during COVID-19. Beyond this pattern, you don’t see angry folks complaining about the restricted alcohol sales restrictions on social media.

What’s even more interesting about the lack of pushback? These alcohol-sales bans have a relatively unknown level of effectiveness. This uncertainty contrasts the largely undisputed effectiveness of wearing masks, for example.

Alcohol sales present a risk during COVID-19, but the timing of those sales isn’t necessarily the problem.

Back in April, the World Health Organization encouraged countries to restrict the sale of alcohol. But that first recommendation meant to counteract the myth that consuming high-proof alcohol could kill the coronavirus. Thankfully, everyone now agrees that on the myth’s undisputed falsehood.

The recommendation’s other reasoning, while still important, also had little to do with the physical coronavirus itself. Health officials have expressed concern (and survey data seems to support the notion) that people buy and drink alcohol in a manner that will likely lead to harm for themselves or others.

To be clear, minimizing the likelihood of alcohol-related harm certainly matters—on principle and especially now. As an example, researchers attribute alcohol restrictions to reduced rates of emergency-room visits. This reduction, in turn, ensures the availability of resources and physicians for coronavirus patients. 

However, the newest ban only restricts when alcohol can be purchased, i.e., before 11 p.m. We’ll get no overall ban on alcohol sales. Furthermore, it only applies to alcohol sold for on-premises consumption (meaning restaurants and bars). This stipulation means that residents can still purchase alcohol at a store, take it home and consume it there. Alcohol will remain available.

While bars present COVID-19 risks, alcohol-sales restrictions don’t necessarily address them most effectively.

While there are obviously other heightened risks that come with the bar and restaurant environments—the nearly 200 COVID-19 cases connected to just one bar near Michigan State University is perhaps the best example of this—those risks are also present at all times, not just after 11:00 p.m.

But, as RTI International epidemiologist Pia MacDonald told The News & Observer, “ ‘[s]etting up a timestamp of when to stop serving alcohol may not be the most effective way to reduce transmission in those settings….’ ”

With nearly 2,000 COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina, any steps (even less-effective ones) are worthwhile at this point. It’s curious, however, that the lawsuits, protests and general outrage that seem to follow every coronavirus restriction seemingly haven’t followed this one. 

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