Here's what you need to know about liquor store operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

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You may have seen Ina Garten make a Cosmopolitan the size of her face recently with the caption, "It's always cocktail hour in a crisis!" Many of us are imbibing more than usual during these uncertain times, but is liquor destined to be as scarce of a commodity as toilet paper during the coronavirus pandemic?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum last week to help determine which businesses should be deemed "essential" during the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 45 states and Washington, D.C. have closed any businesses deemed "nonessential" so far. The agency's list of "critical infrastructure workers" are as follows:

  • Healthcare and Public Health
  • Law Enforcement, Public Safety and Public Responders
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Energy
  • Water and Wastewater
  • Transportation and Logistics (including Post and Shipping)
  • Public Works (including Media and IT)
  • Other Community-Based Government Operations and Essential Functions (including state, tribal and local governments)
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Hazardous Material
  • Financial Services
  • Chemical
  • Defense Industrial Base

"Essential businesses" also include the companies that provide goods and services to help those mentioned above function. The Food and Agriculture tab has a list of which related business should be considered necessary at this time. The first bullet point reads:

"Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail (including unattended and vending) that sells human food, animal/pet food and pet supply, and beverage products, including retail customer support service and information technology support staff necessary for online orders, pickup and delivery."

There is no federal mandate for which businesses should or shouldn't be considered essential, but many states are including liquor stores in their lists of "essential businesses," as liquor stores are a retail business that sell beverage products.

neon sign that reads "Liquor Beer Wine"
Credit: Getty / Nick Page

Another reason some states may be keeping liquor stores open is to mitigate the unpleasant—and potentially deadly—symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Harbor House Chemical Dependency Services Executive Director Trost Friedler told WLBT, “Alcohol’s the most serious that you can be detoxed off of. It causes the most complications and is the most life threatening of anything we detox our patients off of."

According to Newsweek, Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down liquor stores, while 32 states have established protections for these businesses in their emergency orders. Some states—like Alabama—are allowing liquor stores to remain open as long as no more than five customers are in a store at once, store personnel retrieves the customer's order and cash is exchanged by being placed on the counter to avoid skin-to-skin contact. However, in New York, liquor stores can sell wine and spirits—but not beer—while grocery and convenience stores are allowed to sell beer.

Each state is handling the situation differently, and it's worth checking your state's alcoholic beverage authority to find out how your area is handling the situation. Many stores are offering curbside pickup or testing other contact-free delivery methods. If you do go out to pick up alcohol, be sure to continue to practice safe practices such as washing your hands, staying 6 feet away from others and wearing a cloth mask.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDCWHO and their local public health department as resources.