Are liberals ‘addicted’ to the pandemic?

IN THE FACE of a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people in the US and more than 3 million worldwide, one group seems to be letting politics get in the way of science as it defies the recommendations of experts who are trained to understand the ways of dangerous airborne pathogens. 

Conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers? Right-wingers who claim some inalienable don’t-tread-on-me right to march into restaurants or stores maskless, even if it puts others at risk there? 

No. The uber-liberals who populate many communities in Greater Boston. 

Despite their claims of unyielding fidelity to facts and science, liberals are showing their own biases in filtering their pandemic views through a lens distorted by politics, argues Emma Green in The Atlantic. Despite falling COVID case counts and rising vaccination rates, liberals “aren’t quite ready to let go of pandemic restrictions,” she writes. “For this subset, diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity—even when that means overestimating the disease’s risks or setting limits far more strict than what public-health guidelines permit.”

Green’s piece, “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit The Lockdown,” touched on the posture toward the pandemic in the Bay Area, but most of its focus was on the Boston area, where it took liberals to task for being unwilling to update policies to match the latest science. 

It noted that Brookline has maintained its outdoor mask mandate, despite new CDC guidance relaxing mask use in outdoor settings. Brookline’s public health director defended the policy yesterday morning on CNN, but the Globe reports that he announced later in the day that the town’s Advisory Council on Public Health will meet today to “review and potentially recommend revising Brookline’s outdoor face covering mandate.”

On Monday, the Globe touched on the reluctance of some to pivot quickly back to their old ways, chalking it up to the trauma and now-ingrained practices of the past 14 months. Some are diving back into former activities, but “after more than a year of stress, isolation, and loss, the transition to post-pandemic life will be far from easy, strained by residual fear and safety precautions that have become hard-wired,” wrote reporters Emma Platoff and Brian MacQuarrie. 

Green zeroed in on Somerville, where she said a group of moms that includes scientists, pediatricians, and doctors treating COVID-19 patients grew weary in the fall of the city’s reluctance to bring students back for in-person instruction, a policy they felt wasn’t scientifically warranted. 

Green says at one community meeting the women pushing for school reopenings were accused of advancing white supremacy, with one one local leader referring to “fucking white parents” in a virtual meeting. 

“I spent four years fighting Trump because he was so anti-science,” Somerville resident Daniele Lantagne told Green. A mother and engineering professor who works to promote equitable access to clean water and sanitation during disease outbreaks, Lantagne described the odd feeling that she has been witnessing a parallel version of the same thing on the left. “I spent the last year fighting people who I normally would agree with … desperately trying to inject science into school reopening, and completely failed.”

CNN media critic Brian Stelter chimed in on Green’s piece, saying she has documented a segment of the population he recently described as “pandemic addicts.” 

Green’s story faced a lot of blowback on social media, where people took her to task for coming down hard on people who may have trepidation about jumping back into regular activities after something as cataclysmic as a deadly global pandemic.

Alex Goldstein, a Boston political strategist who launched a Twitter account that has helped honor the memory of thousands of COVID-19 victims, was interviewed by Green for her piece.

“Having spent the entire year sharing stories of thousands of people who have died of COVID, it doesn’t really seem controversial to me that some people would be a little nervous about  returning to their pre-pandemic lifestyle overnight,” Goldstein tweeted Tuesday after her article was posted.

Green’s broader point, however, that those on the left — a group that regularly argues we should be guided by science — have not been immune from having their views on pandemic policy shaped by their political outlook, seems to have some basis. 

In October, Michael Hartney, a political science professor at Boston College, and Leslie Finger of the University of North Texas looked at reopening plans for more than 10,000 of the country’s roughly 13,000 school districts. They found — after adjusting for any differences in COVID-19 rates — that districts where Donald Trump won more than 60 percent of the vote in 2016 were much more likely to have opened with in-person instruction, while those that gave Hillary Clinton more than 60 percent of the vote were far more likely to have started with remote learning. The study found a 17 percentage point difference in the likelihood that a district opened in-person between strongly pro-Trump and pro-Clinton communities.

Hartney speculated last fall that a speech Trump gave in early July of 2020 imploring districts to reopen turned an issue that had not been overtly partisan into yet another fault line of the country’s highly polarized political landscape. 

“Before he made those remarks you didn’t see this really neat divide on whether you thought schools should open,” said Hartney. “The issue of school openings became highly politicized.” He said that polarization suggested there were districts that reopened that probably shouldn’t have, while others remained closed, perhaps unnecessarily, despite very low COVID-19 rates.

Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who was interviewed by Green, echoed that view. If Trump said, ‘Keep schools open,’ then, well, we’re going to do everything in our power to keep schools closed,” said Gandhi, who called herself “left of left” but said she had alienated some ideological peers by advocating for faster school reopenings. 

Notwithstanding the divide Green paints, another tweet Goldstein sent out yesterday illustrated the ways in which many things said about the pandemic may be true at the moment, but things can change quickly. In The Atlantic piece, Green says that although Boston area rugby teams have been back at it, the team Goldstein plays on was holding off on reengaging in the sport, where players can end up piled on top of each other.

“I’m happy to confirm that, since Emma and I spoke for this story a few weeks back, and consistent with CDC guidelines, our rugby team is returning to action on May 18th!” Goldstein tweeted yesterday.  

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

After a 107-page investigatory report and hours of public testimony, some of the key decisions that led to Fall River teen David Almond’s death remain inexplicable. For example, one day after a judge found his father unfit to parent, the Department of Children and Families moved to reunite Almond and his siblings with their father. “It is completely inexplicable,” said Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services. “It is bad social work.” Read more.

A new report says 479 children were harmed last year under state supervision, most of them suffering some form of emotional harm. Fifty-eight died. Read more.

Opinion:

John Rosenthal of Meredith Management says green buildings are a high priority for developers, but government has to do its part by offering financial incentives. Read more.

Harvard sophomore Madeline Ranalli says a gun store is not welcome in Newton. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Senate President Karen Spilka wants to develop a plan to improve opportunities for intergenerational care, and she is seeking input from state residents on what exactly that would look like. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

With Nahant threatening to seize property owned by Northeastern University by eminent domain if the school proceeds with plans to build on it, the university says the $2 million taking could end up costing the community a lot more. (Daily Item)

A virtual meeting about dirt bikes and ATVs riding through Franklin Park in Boston was shut down after being repeatedly “Zoom bombed” and will be rescheduled for later today. (Boston Herald

Acting Mayor Kim Janey throws in with those opposing a power substation in East Boston, but it’s not clear what the city can do to stop it. (Boston Herald

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The number of active COVID cases has fallen to November levels, as more than half the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. (MassLive

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Biden sets a new goal of having 70 percent of American adults vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4. He also agrees to redistribute vaccines not wanted by states. (NPR)

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut plan to reopen on May 19. Some residents are exhilarated, while others are dubious. (New York Times)

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz says the effort to sack Rep. Liz Cheney from her Republican  leadership position is just the latest episode for a party that has lost its way. 

ELECTIONS

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling says too much is being made of an email from developer Richard Taylor trying to push Andrea Campbell out of the Boston mayor’s race and that it’s right to be concerned about a splitting of the black vote in the race. (Boston Herald) The email push was reported last week by CommonWealth.  

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The egg industry warns of egg shortages and high prices if lawmakers don’t update a ballot question that was passed in 2016 requiring chickens to be kept in larger cages. (Gloucester Daily Times)

EDUCATION

Quincy College will consider whether to join the state community college system. (Patriot Ledger)

Education Commissioner Jeff Riley asks lawmakers to fund a grant program to help school districts address chronic absenteeism, amid questions about why Fall River teen David Almond was able to skip attending remote school for months before his death. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

After the North Brookfield school committee voted to ditch the school’s Indians mascot out of concerns about racism, North Brookfield voters decide in a non-binding referendum that they want to make the Indians the mascot for the entire town. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Animal rights activists are seeking to limit the use of certain toxic rat poisons after a bald eagle was poisoned by eating rat bait. (Salem News)

A new report makes recommendations for how to strengthen the state’s shellfish industry. (Gloucester Daily Times)

US Sen. Ed Markey visits Hull to make the case for greater federal investment in wind energy. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

District Attorney Marian Ryan releases more details about the death of Hopkinton teenager Mikayla Miller and says there is no cover-up. (Telegram & Gazette)

The last remaining charge against Sean Ellis in connection with the 1995 murder of a Boston police detective, a gun possession charge, was thrown out by a judge. (Boston Globe)

A former aide to then-Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia testified at his federal corruption trial that while under FBI investigation, Correia pressed him to have would-be marijuana shop owner donate $100,000 to Correia’s legal defense in return for the mayor providing a “non-opposition” letter to his bid to open a pot shop in Fall River. (Boston Globe)

A former Beverly pizzeria owner is alleged to have falsely claimed half a million dollars in COVID relief money, which he used to buy an alpaca farm in Vermont. (Associated Press)

PASSINGS

Pierce Sears, the Rockport resident who ran the iconic Twin Lights Beverages company, dies at 88. (Gloucester Daily Times