Staff Columnist

As Iowa inches toward shutdown, let the liquor flow

Mind-altering substances in the era of social distancing

A sign posed near the entrance to Local Craft Ale House in Cedar Rapids directs customers to call in their orders instea
A sign posed near the entrance to Local Craft Ale House in Cedar Rapids directs customers to call in their orders instead of entering the restaurant on Monday, March 16, 2020. Owner Jason Wilkerson decided to go to curbside to-go orders and growler fills in an effort to prevent spread of the coronavirus. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds is relaxing state regulations in a bid to bolster Iowa’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and sustain businesses during the partial economic shutdown.

Last week, Reynolds announced certain bars and restaurants — previously ordered to cease dine-in service — now can sell alcoholic beverages with carryout and drive-through orders. Along with an order to extend the deadline to renew firearm permits, it may have been the biggest libertarian moment in Iowa politics so far this century.

In response to the carryout liquor order, the marketplace quickly adapted. I have seen businesses advertising margarita mix previously only available for dine-in, two-part Jägerbomb kits and portable bloody mary bars packaged in ramekins. It’s a tasty and intoxicating way for Iowans to show their support for local businesses that employ thousands of hourly wage workers.

Historically, liquor has had a close relationship with infectious disease. Booze was long thought to have myriad therapeutic benefits, and it is well regarded as a social-distancing aid.

Circulating on the internet recently is a letter purportedly authored by author F. Scott Fitzgerald during the global Spanish flu outbreak 100 years ago. He notes that he stocked up on “a month’s worth of necessities,” consisting of a long list of wines and spirits.

The letter is a parody, published this month by McSweeney’s, but the liquor bit apparently is believable to modern audiences.

To be clear, drinking whiskey will not protect you from COVID-19. Modern research shows alcohol consumption diminishes the body’s ability to fight infection. Extremely high-proof alcohol might work as a hand cleanser during a shortage, but it’s not recommended.

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That said, if you’re healthy and looking for ways to make your coronavirus isolation more bearable, mind-altering substances might be an option.

The New York state government is leading one of the most aggressive coronavirus responses, with all non-essential workers ordered to stay home. But in their great wisdom, bureaucrats have deemed liquor stores essential businesses and allowed them to stay open.

California and Illinois also are ordering non-essential services to close, but the states’ legal cannabis dispensaries are exempt. In Cook County, Ill., one of the nation’s largest criminal justice systems, officials said last week they would not prosecute non-violent, low-level drug offenses during the coronavirus shutdown.

A few jurisdictions are taking steps to ensure harm reduction organizations, which supply safer drug use supplies such as syringes, can continue operating. Some advocates have even suggested the radical idea of supplying illegal drugs to people as international supply chains are disrupted.

Many will scoff at such measures, dismissing the necessity of drugs and alcohol during a global public health emergency. But governments have never been able to stop the flow of liquor, and this case won’t be any different.

The state can make rules and send men with guns out to enforce the orders, but people still will find ways to engage in commerce. The question is whether we let them do it safely, or revert to bootlegging.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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