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An article criticized Mass. ‘liberals’ for remaining cautious in the pandemic. Here’s how people responded

Friends Susannah Davis, left, and Madeline Gardner worked on knitting projects in Griggs Park in Brookline.
Friends Susannah Davis, left, and Madeline Gardner worked on knitting projects in Griggs Park in Brookline.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Progressive communities in Massachusetts and elsewhere came under fire on Tuesday for an issue particularly suited to pandemic times: being too cautious about the coronavirus and its impacts.

The conversation, spurred by an article published in The Atlantic titled “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown” seemed to be everywhere on some social feeds, exposing a rift between those who are remaining vigilant for a variety of reasons, and the “jubilant Americans” flocking to bars, eating at restaurants, and planning summer weddings.

The crux of the argument is that adhering to pandemic restrictions for some liberals — even when, the author of the article Emma Green contends, their estimation of the risks posed by the disease and limits set are stricter than “what public-health guidelines permit” — remains an “expression of political identity.”

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“The last year has been harrowing. Making sacrifices — staying home, wearing masks, cancelling weddings and funerals and graduations — has become this sign of civic virtue,” Green wrote in a tweet. “And I think some progressives are having a really hard time giving that up.”

Two communities in the Boston area, Brookline and Somerville, were featured prominently in the piece, scrutinized for policies instituted and behaviors modeled that have apparently “veered away” from scientific evidence as the year has progressed.

Health officials in Brookline and Salem recently opted to continue requiring their mask mandates outdoors, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention easing its guidelines and now saying those fully vaccinated can drop them while outside and social distancing is possible.

Dr. Swannie Jett, the director of health and human services in Brookline, was pressed on the decision during an interview on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday morning. He noted that the town was “one of the first in the nation to institute a face covering mandate” at the start of the pandemic.

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When questioned on whether the town was now going beyond what the science calls for and if the mask mandate might incentivize unvaccinated residents to not get the shot, Jett disagreed. He raised the point that only about “30 percent of our population has been vaccinated” and that “Brookline is a very dense community.”

“COVID is not over. The pandemic still exists. We still have people dying. It still can be transmitted,” Jett said. “This is the one safety, public health precaution that we have in place that can ensure that a person probably doesn’t contract COVID or spread it to somebody else. If we lift that, along with the social distancing, we don’t know what the negative impact may be.”

Later in the day, Jett announced that the Town of Brookline’s Advisory Council on Public Health will gather on Wednesday to “review and potentially recommend revising Brookline’s outdoor face covering mandate.”

In Somerville, introduced in The Atlantic article as “the kind of community where residents proudly display rainbow yard signs declaring, ‘In this house … We believe science is real,’ ” the issue of schools being slow to reopen was raised as a point of major contention between leaders like Mayor Joseph Curtatone and a “group of moms.”

“They saw the city’s proposed safety measures as nonsensical and unscientific — a sort of hygiene theater that prioritized the appearance of protection over getting kids back to their classrooms,” the article said, noting that a “local leader appeared to describe parents who wanted a faster return to in-person instruction as ‘[expletive] white parents’ in a virtual public meeting.”

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“And so as the rest of vaccinated America begins its summer of bacchanalia, rescheduling long-awaited dinner parties and medium-size weddings, the most hard-core pandemic progressives are left ... to preach their peers’ folly,” the article said.

Many on social media didn’t take well to that summarizing point — or the analysis of people’s cautionary measures throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“The demographics of major media are such that you and your friends and family worked from home and ordered in and were largely unscathed by the realities of who died and who kept dying and what their deaths did to their families and what the guilt of surviving is like you are not from, or have no nexus to, places where the pandemic rages uncontrolled and there aren’t enough vaccines and there’s no oxygen in the hospitals,” Stacy-Marie Ishmael, former editorial director of the Texas Tribune, wrote in a tweet.

Ishmael added: “Your reality is not universal, even if your judgement is sweeping.”

And many, like Marcus H. Johnson, a political commentator and political science Ph.D. student at American University, said the overt focus on what others are currently willing to do — or not do — seems misguided after the events of the past year.

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“I don’t get why we’re making fun of people for trying to stay safe after what happened during the pandemic. When 600k people died,” Johnson wrote in a tweet. “This was the worst event in the lives of so many people around the world. But we’re getting mad at people who aren’t ready to go party in clubs yet?”



Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.