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Politics

Fact Check: 'Nugget Of Truth' To Lawmaker's Claim About Why Liquor Stores Are Open In Pandemic

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Under North Carolina's stay-at-home order, grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants offering takeout are deemed essential businesses and can stay open. But there are a few head scratchers among the bunch, including the state's government-run liquor stores.

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State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Mecklenburg County recently took on why liquor stores are still open. He said it's a health issue. WRAL's Paul Specht joins us to assess this claim.

Lisa Worf: So, what was Jackson's reasoning?

Paul Specht: He had seen media reports from North Carolina and other states where people were quoted — people being addiction experts or even ABC store officials — saying that they were concerned that people who depend on alcohol would react poorly if they weren't able to access it at liquor stores.

Worf: Now, Jackson in response to the question he posed, "Why are liquor stores still open?" tweeted, "It’s because we have a lot of people who are chemically dependent on alcohol and if we suddenly cut off their access they would go into withdrawal and flood the emergency rooms, which we can’t have right now." So, does his reasoning have any truth?

Specht: Yes. If you look at it, there are people in other states — medical experts in other states — who are afraid that cutting off liquor store access would lead to withdrawal symptoms for some, which then would lead to more E.R. admissions. We found that to be true. In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont up there cited medical reasons for why he exempted liquor stores, and experts have been quoted in New Jersey and Texas for some of the same reasons. But we did not find that to be the official case here, and experts aren't unified.

Worf: And what was the governor's case then for leaving ABC stores as essential businesses?

Specht: You know, if you go looking for this online, you'll struggle to find an official reason why on a government website, which is why we reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services, and they told us the reasoning is simple. They said, "People need to stay home as much as possible. However, people should be able to buy items used in their daily lives." And so, liquor is just another item that they considered to be needed in everyday life for most North Carolinians.

Worf: Now it's up to these individual ABC boards, and there are 170 of them in North Carolina, as to whether they will stay open or not. So, was it clear what their reasoning was?

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Credit Paul Specht
Paul Specht

Specht: That's right. There are two layers to this. There's one at the state level with the governor. But then the individual ABC boards throughout the state each have the freedom to close if they feel like that's most necessary in their areas. And I think most of them have stayed open, but there was someone in Asheville associated with a local ABC store there who said he had seen studies about people going to the E.R. if they suffered withdrawal symptoms, if their alcohol was cut off. And so, that was one reason that he was staying open.

Worf: Now, ABC stores do generate a lot of money for the state and for local governments, too. Is there any chance that's a reason the governor's order allows them to stay open?

Specht: You know, we might be getting into conspiracy theory territory here, but it wouldn't surprise me if that went into the thinking. And this is not part of our rating at all, but it is something we wondered about, especially since state officials expect there to be deficit for the next budget.

Worf: So, what's your rating on Jackson's explanation?

Specht: His claim has a nugget of truth here that some people might be chemically dependent on alcohol and might end up in the E.R. if they go into withdrawal. But we found no evidence that there are enough people in those circumstances to "flood emergency rooms." And the governor's explanation for why liquor stores are essential business is vague. It doesn't specifically mention a medical reason, and so, we rated Jackson's claim mostly false.

These fact checks are a collaboration between WRAL and PolitiFact. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's "Morning Edition."