CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Alison Kuznitz/The Charlotte Observer) - Late-night alcohol sales will soon be limited in Charlotte and some surrounding towns to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio told elected officials and administrators in an email Wednesday morning.
“We are currently drafting the language that will be signed by the (county commissioners) Chair and the respective mayors,” Diorio wrote.
The planned restriction would prohibit alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte, and in the towns of Davidson, Matthews and Mint Hill, Diorio said in the email shared with The Charlotte Observer by a county commissioner and a spokesperson for Mecklenburg.
Diorio’s email said leaders in the towns of Cornelius, Huntersville and Pineville “have decided not to sign on” for now.
Orange County, N.C., and the state of South Carolina took a similar step last week to quell the uptick in COVID-19 cases. Proponents of alcohol restrictions say the move will deter overcrowding around bars inside businesses and reduce instances of potential COVID-19 exposure when drinking alcohol may lower a person’s inhibitions.
George Dunlap, chairman of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, told the Observer on Tuesday that he also favors restrictions on restaurants and bars.
“I’ve seen enough videos of businesses that show no concern about the general public and the general welfare,” Dunlap said.
“And that’s unacceptable. While you don’t want to punish the whole community for what a few businesses do, we have to in some way send a message that we’re serious.”
The restrictions in Mecklenburg will be in place while North Carolina remains in Phase Two of reopening, Diorio said. Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday he’s pausing reopening at Phase Two for at least another three weeks.
“The start date of the change is dependent on how quickly we can agree on the language and give proper notice to the impacted establishments,” Diorio wrote in her email Wednesday.
It is unclear how this new restriction will be enforced.
Cooper said during Tuesday’s new conference that he wanted local governments to feel empowered to ban late-night alcohol sales “if they believe this will help slow the spread in their communities.” He specifically noted it could be effective for “college towns” where students may be returning en masse in the fall, if colleges decide to allow on campus living and in person classes
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles had told City Council members Monday she supported the restriction, after images of crowded gatherings at local restaurants and bars circulated on social media.
“We need to be very serious about the things we’re doing to address this COVID pandemic,” Lyles told the Observer Tuesday. “We need to take this seriously. We’ve seen the spikes in other parts of the country.
And Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he is a “strong advocate” of closing bars. He spoke during a rare visit to Charlotte on Monday.
Redfield told reporters “it’s critical that we recognize certain businesses that tend to facilitate irresponsible behavior.”