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(The Center Square) – More than a dozen local North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control boards have adopted an alcohol buyback program meant to offer relief to bars and restaurants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Carolina Association of ABC Boards approved a measure that would allow bars and restaurants to resell their alcohol to ABC stores after they were forced to shut down because of social distancing rules.

“During this time of crisis, all North Carolinians must do what we can to help our friends and neighbors in need,” Miles Davis, president of the NC Association of ABC Boards, said in a statement. 

The program calls for ABC stores to accept returns for purchases dating back to Jan. 1 at the current retail price minus the mixed beverage tax. Local boards would have to adopt the policy before the program can be initiated. As of Wednesday, 18 local ABC boards had adopted versions of the policy, a spokesperson for the association said.

On March 27, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order directing all North Carolinians to stay at home through April 29. An order signed by the governor on March 17 shuttered all sit-in bars and restaurants.

“This program will help struggling bar and restaurant owners raise needed cash to withstand the economic shutdown,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, who helped the association with the policy. “This is the hardest-hit sector in our economy, and this is a simple step we can take now to help deliver some relief.”

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, said as many as 18,000 restaurants have shut down since Cooper signed the first order that banned dine-in service.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,426 COVID-19 cases in the state – including 53 deaths – and 386 current hospitalizations.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 14,473 deaths in the U.S., with at least 422,000 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.