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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

As Bars Remain Frustrated, Questions About Breweries' 'Strong Plan Of Public Safety'

North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild

When NASCAR wanted to race the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it sent Gov. Roy Cooper’s office a 20-page health and safety plan.

When Republicans wanted to hold their convention in Charlotte, they submitted a plan, that one totaling 42 pages.

And when the Carolina Panthers wanted to have fans at Bank of America Stadium, the team sent the Department of Health and Human Services a 21-page plan.

In early August, Cooper was asked at a news conference why breweries – and not bars -- had been allowed to open in Phase 2.

The governor said: “There is a difference in that these products were made onsite. And, in addition, the small number of those craft breweries and wineries presented a strong plan of public safety.”

But the Department of Health and Human Services told WFAE that “we do not have a written plan from the [North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild].” 

DHHS did send four other documents from the guild that are reminders about hand washing and social distancing that can be posted in breweries, as well as a “pledge” from the guild that lists actions they will take. Those actions include cleaning bathrooms and common areas and making sure people stay six feet apart.

Cooper’s office sent a link to an umbrella website by the guild that includes those pledges, as well as other links to health information from the CDC and WHO. There is also a checklist for breweries about how to reopen and what to do if an employee is infected by the coronavirus.

Zack Medford of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association said he’s “shocked” that the state doesn’t have more information from the breweries.

“We will go above and beyond that,” he said. “Bar owners across North Carolina are willing to make any pledge that the governor and the Department of Health and Human Services wants us to sign.”

He said bars are willing to close at 11 p.m. and reduce capacity to 50%.

This week, Cooper moved the state into Phase 2.5, allowing gyms, playgrounds, museums and a handful of other indoor facilities to open. Bars are still closed.

Richard Greene with the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild said his organization started meeting with the state early in the pandemic – even before Cooper enacted the blanket stay-at-home order in late March. He said brewers were already working on a reopening plan before they were closed.
While DHHS may not have a detailed written plan, he said there were extensive conversations about reopening safely. He said their sugestions were incorporated into the state's guidance on how to re-open safely.
“We had work groups about how to safely open a restaurant and a brewery,” he said.
The debate of bars vs. breweries has existed since late May, when the state moved to Phase 2. It initially appeared that breweries would be closed, but the state then clarified that they could reopen.
The guild has a Raleigh lobbyist, Alex Miller, who referred calls to Greene.
Greene said there has been unfair speculation that Cooper was influenced by campaign contributions.
“There’s a bunch of crap on social media that was wrong,” he said. “Yes, we have a political action committee. Public records will show we have $7,000 in that account and we have not made any political contributions in over a year.”
Greene said breweries have shown they can operate safely. While employees have tested positive for COVID-19, he said he’s not aware of any clusters of cases in North Carolina tied to breweries.
In the Sun Belt, governors allowed bars to open before closing them again after cases spiked this summer. In Jacksonville, Florida, health officials identified one cluster of at least 15 cases from a bar.
Greene also said the roughly 330 breweries statewide are different from bars. They usually have high ceilings. They often attract families or civic organizations. And they often have outdoor space.
But Medford said bar owners just want an opportunity.

“Bars have long offered to draw up a safety plan if we can get some guidance from the governor on what he wants to see,” he said. “But that information was never made public.”

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter, Inside Politics. Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.