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Narrative Shifts from Alc Bev Biz As “Essential” to “1 A Day Boys” & Superspreading Bars

Coronavirus continues to create unprecedented change in behaviors, attitudes and policies.  Just a few mos ago, most govt officials deemed alc bev biz “essential,” keeping companies alive and people employed.  Many sought ways to accommodate increased access and sales.  Fast forward to late summer and the narrative seems to be changing, not for the better. 

Just Say One; “Make Public Health Essential, Not Alcohol”  Tho fed govt’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Comm engaged in a process separate from Covid disruptions, it just recommended slashing the upper limit for moderate drinking among men to 1 per day, totally surprising industry groups that monitored the process.  Depts of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will decide by end of this yr or early next whether to officially adopt this as US policy and take a significant step toward embracing the “all drinking is risky” mantra of public health advocates.  Two other current narratives play into a less positive view of alcohol/drinking.  First is often mis-reported notion that strong off-premise trends mean biz is booming overall.  Even Wall St Jnl recently reported “alcohol sales have surged 23.6% since March...thru Aug 1,” citing Nielsen, but ignoring fact that that most or all of that gain (and then some if you’re talking $$) wiped out by on-premise lockdowns. Second, even tho polling shows vast majority of drinkers are drinking the same or less than pre-Covid, industry faces constant headlines like USA Today’s “Americans drinking more during pandemic; relief is temporary.”  Tuff to seek accommodations if perception is your biz is booming and risky drinking on the rise.   

Meanwhile, public health groups like Alcohol Justice in Calif are now calling on govt officials to reverse course and “make public health essential, not alcohol,” to increase restrictions on the biz rather than accommodate it.  Beer Inst ceo Jim McGreevy stressed that biz needs to maintain its “essential” status as “there are lots of critics out there ready to pounce” on the industry and who “want to see us restricted,” during Aug 27 Brewbound Brew Talk.  Bars have taken the brunt of the negativity so far, as we noted last issue, now often being dubbed “super spreaders” of Covid.  Inside service remains prohibited or severely restricted in the nation’s largest markets, including CA, TX, FL and NY.  And there’s no end in sight.  NYC Mayor said on Aug 21 the city had “no plan” for the return of indoor dining, infuriating local bars/restaurants and their lobbyists.  Recall too our suggestion last issue that NY bars targeted for license suspension for violating pandemic regs would “not go gently into closing time.”  A fed ct already rejected one bar’s attempt to get a temporary restraining order (TRO) after the state liquor authority (SLA) suspended its license for alleged violations.  Bar claimed SLA “went too far,” judge observed, “even in seeking to protect the public health, by summarily suspending its license without giving it any advance notice of its intended action or any chance to contest it.”  Judge denied the TRO, but scheduled quick hearing and required further input from each side.  Meanwhile, representatives for bars, breweries and others raise issues of fairness, “rights to assembly,” lack of coordination between different govt agencies, failure to communicate, and more, across the US. 

“Smart Re-Opening” = No Bars Even a lengthy analysis in Wall St Journal that mostly criticized “lockdown” approach included a graphic that showed “bars, restaurants and casinos” are leading sources of outbreaks/cases, acting as “super spreader events.”  And the “smart re-opening plan” endorsed by the author “assumes most businesses reopen using industry guidelines on physical distancing, hygiene and working from home; schools reopen; masks are required; and churches, indoor sports venues and bars stay closed.”

Back to Campus = “No Partying” Meanwhile, “To Stay Open, Colleges Wage War on Parties,” The New York Times front-paged on Aug 23.  Media is pounding the story that as college students return to campus, many are immediately breaking pledges to socially distance, wear masks, not gather in large groups and not party.  They cite chapter and verse from colleges across US where outbreaks occurred as soon as students returned.  In Montgomery, AL, home of Univ of Alabama, where over 500 cases quickly surfaced, mayor ordered all local bars closed for 2 wks and sought halt to restaurant alcohol service too.

Ironically, the most beneficial/essential quality of alc bevs and drinking environments− promoting socialization − sadly also poses significant risks to drinkers amid pandemic.  Outdoor service, cocktails-to-go, expanded delivery options and small gatherings among people who know each other continue to provide low-risk oppys to enjoy a drink or two.  But the federal govt may soon officially frown upon that second pop.  And it’s going to be a long, drier fall (and probably winter and perhaps beyond) for bars and campus communities, two significant drinking environments.  In a broader sense, as narrative shifts, alc bevs may become more of a target among policymakers.   

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2020
  • Volume: 51
  • Issue #: 16
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