While I think SQB and others have sewn up the main reason for the cartoon, they missed the underlying problem the article seems to want to gloss over: the open attacks (and sometimes downright demonization) of people who favored less pandemic restrictions. We're not talking about minor issues where people were preaching caution and merely disagreeing with decisions. We're talking full-blown "The sky is falling!" rhetoric that sought to not just persuade, but openly punish people who were not on board with anything trying to keep people "safe", regardless of the impact of said policies.
The Atlantic, in particular, would probably prefer it if we just all forgot about their April 2020 article entitled Georgia's Experiment in Human Sacrifice, about Georgia being one of the first states to begin reopening after the hard shutdowns of March 2020. The byline is equally fiery
The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy.
This wasn't some minor piece from one author. This was from their main magazine, and the implications were fairly extreme
Few people in Georgia are eager to be a case study in pandemic exceptionalism, but many won’t have a choice. Jillian Yeskel, the stylist in Roswell, whose Trump-supporting parents voted for Kemp, said she’d had conversations with them in the past week that she couldn’t have dreamed of a few months ago. “I’d assumed they’d support anything Kemp had to say,” she told me. “I talk to my mom every day, and we’re both just so upset with him.”
The article also insinuated Georgia governor Kemp was doing this for racist reasons, and that minorities would bear the brunt of this "sacrificial decision". The actual numbers, however, showed no such sacrifice, something even detractors had to admit
Georgia was the first state to start reopening its economy after shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the shelter-in-place order expired on April 30, a lot of experts and much of the public worried about the worst: a sustained spike in Covid-19 cases that would overwhelm emergency rooms and lead to a surge in deaths.
Yet more than a month later, the worst hasn’t arrived.
Georgia would see spikes later, but not excessive relative to how other states (and even the world) with stricter rules were seeing. That's what makes the Atlantic article so infuriating to some: they want to pretend it didn't happen
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.
There are some hard political conversations that need to be had here. Dr Anthony Fauci, for instance, one one of the leading US voices during the pandemic, due to his position in the National Institute of Health. But Fauci openly admitted he was doling advice out based on where he thought the politics were
When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent ... Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, "I can nudge this up a bit," so I went to 80, 85. We need to have some humility here .... We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I'm not going to say 90 percent.
Mind you, these sorts of things erode confidence, especially when people are using such statements to do things like extend lockdowns or close schools (Bill de Blasio, then mayor of New York City, at one point, threatened to permanently close any house of worship that tried to reopen). An on-point rebuttal made this point
But the questions in the pandemic were not just factual disputes about a disease that was evolving quickly. They were also disputes about whether the Bill of Rights mattered anymore. Think of Bill de Blasio, telling Christians, Jews, and other religious believers that they had to abide by the city’s rule against gatherings of ten or more people, even as he himself was violating these rules in public support of the George Floyd protests.
Trying to just say (as the comic does) "mistakes were made on both sides" after you've burned people at the stake misses the problem of how you got there at the first place.