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States take aim at ‘Friendsgiving’ drink sales

Pennsylvania has banned alcohol service Wednesday night, while others rely on curfews, public pleas and stepped-up enforcement of safety rules.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Leaders of several states took action Monday to curb on-premise alcohol sales on Thanksgiving eve, a night known as Friendsgiving because of the propensity of acquaintances home for the holidays to gather for a night of drinking at old familiar haunts.

State officials fear the gatherings could turn into super-spreader events, accelerating the spread of coronavirus during what remains a surge in new cases.

Restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania will be required to stop selling alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption at 5 p.m. Wednesday night, with unfinished drinks taken from customers at 6. The ban extends until 8 a.m. on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

To-go sales of alcohol can continue as permitted under previous regulations. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stopped short of limiting alcoholic beverage service on Friendsgiving, but announced that he will dispatch “high visibility compliance units” to ensure that places licensed to sell drinks are abiding by state safety protocols, including a requirement that parties remain six feet apart. In addition, Maryland State Police will maintain a 24-hour telephone hotline and email alert system where instances of noncompliance can be reported by members of the public.

In addition, the state intends to use its emergency-alert system to robocall residents on Wednesday and remind them of fundamental anti-COVID protocols.

The measures are aimed at dampening the socializing that tends to arise when relatives and old pals decide to get reacquainted over drinks while home for Thanksgiving. This year, “I cannot emphasize how reckless that is,” Hogan said in announcing the stepped-up measures on Monday.

The governor acted after Maryland notched 19 consecutive days of new all-time highs in measures of the coronavirus’ spread.

North Carolina imposed no new service limitations on restaurants, but the state adopted a new requirement yesterday that onsite restaurant patrons be required to wear a facemask at all times except when they’re actually chewing, sipping or forking food in their mouths.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made good yesterday on his weekend threat to suspend indoor dining at more areas in Staten Island and Manhattan, two boroughs of New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that he expects dining rooms to be closed by Cuomo throughout the city next week.

New restrictions were announced yesterday for all restaurants in the District of Columbia, but Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser noted that the most significant limitation will not take effect until Dec. 14. As of that date, the cap on indoor dining will drop to 25% of total capacity, from the current level of 50%. Bowser said the delay is intended to give operators time to use up supplies and cut losses from waste before they take the hit to sales.

In the meantime, and including Wednesday night, places are prohibited from selling or permitting the consumption of alcohol on-premise after 10 p.m.  Restaurants can remain open until midnight.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who suspended online restaurant dining as of last Friday, did not proclaim new limits on the restaurants within his state. But he indicated yesterday that the state will look into whether the igloos, domes, huts and other structures being used by restaurants to provide outdoor seating are truly providing the greater safety of open-air eating.

“Some we believe are safe,” the governor said, “but we are reviewing some of the tents we’ve seen and considering some guidance.”

The restaurant industry has objected that the latest wave of service limitations is hurting the industry without necessarily boosting public safety.

The shutting down of alcohol service in prime dinner hours will encourage unregulated, unsafe group gatherings in private homes where safety protocols including social distancing and mask-wearing is not adhered to or completely ignored," John Longstreet, CEO of hte Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a statement. 

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