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‘Right move’ to keep NSLC open during coronavirus outbreak: social worker

Questions surrounding liquor stores staying open
Liquor and cannabis stores have closed in other atlantic provinces but the nova scotia liquor corporation is open for business. Those who work closely with people with addictions say that is the right move. Ashley Field reports.

While many businesses across the province have been forced to shut their doors amid the new coronavirus outbreak, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation locations remain open — the right move, according to a local social worker.

“We have a harm reduction stance here at the North End Community Health Centre, and advocating for the NSLC to stay open is just a part of what we’re doing to reduce harm,” said Megan MacBride, a social worker at the health centre.

READ MORE: ‘Stay home for us’ — N.S. health-care workers unite as coronavirus concerns rise

MacBride works with clients who have alcohol dependency or addiction. She says if they can’t get the product they need, many will turn to “non-beverage alcohol.”

“Which would be things like Listerine, cleaning products or hairspray, and that’s to avoid going into withdrawal from alcohol, which medically is very dangerous,” says MacBride.

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Withdrawal symptoms can include sleeplessness, tremors, nausea and seizures within a few hours after a person’s last drink. If untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal can even result in death, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

READ MORE: Why liquor stores are an essential service amid the coronavirus pandemic

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the province, MacBride says keeping liquor stores open is just one more thing we can do — along with self-isolation and social distancing — to keep people out of hospital.

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“Allowing our doctors and nurses and nurse practitioners to do what they need to be doing, and that’s to tend to folks who are sick with COVID-19,” says MacBride.

Reduced hours, preventive measures

NSLC locations have taken steps to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. Store hours have been reduced to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday, with provincewide closures on Sundays and special shopping hours for seniors and those most at risk for COVID-19.

The number of customers permitted in a store at a time will also be limited based on the size of the location, and the NSLC is asking patrons to bag their own purchases in order to reduce contact with cashiers.

READ MORE: What is an essential service? After groceries, it depends where you live in Canada

During a briefing on Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil said the decision to keep NSLC stores open during this pandemic was made at the advice of public health officials, adding that they will continue to monitor the situation.

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“There are, quite frankly, those Nova Scotians whose health requirements need access to this product,” said the premier.

“We also know that there are family situations where people are living in very difficult situations where the restriction of this product could escalate that.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus self-isolation could lead to increased domestic violence — N.S. agencies

According to a 2017 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), more Nova Scotians are hospitalized because of alcohol than the national average. A CIHI report published just last year also showed that 10 Canadians die in hospital every day from harm caused by substance use, and 75 per cent of those deaths are related to alcohol. MacBride says it’s not just the vulnerable population that’s affected.

“These are our neighbours, these are our grandparents — there are people who are also holding down full-time jobs,” says MacBride.

“Anything that we can do as a community to get people the necessities that they need and to try and return some sort of normalcy through all of this, that’s the best we can do for our community — and in Nova Scotia, keeping the liquor stores open is one of those things.”