The jacket first lady Melania Trump wore on a June 2018 visit to a McAllen, Texas, detention center holding immigrant children separated from their parents was unforgettable.

Months later, she said she wore the jacket to send a message to “the people and the left-wing media” who were criticizing her. But the damage was done. The jab at her critics just happened to be a perfect slogan for the Trump administration’s attitude toward anyone who doesn’t cheer him on, proven over and over again through policy and rhetoric.

It might as well be Donald Trump’s slogan for the remainder of his presidency. 

As I write this, COVID-19 has claimed more than 246,000 lives in the United States in the last 10 months. More than 11 million cases have been reported during that time, and they’re accumulating at an average of more than 155,000 new cases per day.

In the last two weeks, the global increase in coronavirus cases was 16%. In the U.S., it was 82%. Wisconsin is the fourth-highest state by measure of total cases per 100,000 people, and a recent New York Times analysis determined that we are "the state that has unraveled the fastest."

More than 2,600 Wisconsinites' lives have been lost as a result of COVID-19. Last week, the state Department of Health Services added a new “critically high” category to its measure of disease activity, because “very high” wasn’t enough. The “critically high” category (more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents) is nearly three times higher than “very high,” and it currently describes 65 of the state’s 72 counties

The numbers are staggering — beyond comprehension for most of us who are, blessedly, not used to processing death at this magnitude. What differentiates 50 from 500, 500 from 5,000, 5,000 from 50,000? Massive loss is massive loss, and we are not conditioned to understand these differences as long as they are theoretical. 

The differentiating factor, for most of us, is one. Once we know one person who has experienced a serious case of COVID-19, it becomes real. And if, God forbid, we know one person for whom COVID-19 was a death sentence, that reality becomes inescapable. 

When we lose someone, we feel the pain of that loss. It becomes clear how much that person brought to our lives, and how much every little thing we do might matter to someone else. We remember the seemingly insignificant moments — a joke, a smile, a word of encouragement — that are now full of meaning.

So many of us fail to do that with the people who are still in our lives. It’s understandable — it’s painful, and probably unhealthy, to think daily about what our lives would look like without them.

But as long as the coronavirus pandemic remains unchecked, we have to think that way at least a little bit. We have to consider how every interaction we have could affect our loved ones if it turns out that we’ve been exposed to COVID-19. 

No one is perfect in this regard, myself included. Even with the best intentions, I’ve misstepped, and I can’t judge anyone who’s done the same. Mistakes are just that. We learn and do better next time.

The problem lies with those who just don’t care.

“I’m not going out and looking to catch it,” a Nebraska resident recently told an Associated Press reporter. “I don’t want to catch it. But if I get it, I get it. That’s just how I feel.”

The prevalence of that attitude, experts said, has contributed to the Midwest’s skyrocketing caseload. 

If you get it, you get it. Sure. But if you get it, anyone you come in contact with may also get it. And their body might not be equipped to handle it. If you don’t care if you get it, but you don’t sequester yourself from human contact, then you also don’t care if anyone you know — anyone you ostensibly care about — gets it. You don’t care.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump. 

The president doesn’t care. 

If he cared, he would facilitate a smooth transition between his administration and that of President-elect Joe Biden — if only for the sake of the country’s coronavirus response.

“The transition process that we go through … is really important in a smooth handing over of the information, as well as, it’s almost like passing a baton in a race. You don’t want to stop and then give it to somebody. You want to just essentially keep going. And that’s what transition is,” Dr. Anthony Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has experienced multiple transitions having served six presidents in a period of 36 years — told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.

“Of course” it would be better, Fauci said, if government officials could start working with Biden’s transition team on the nation’s coronavirus response. His comments come as both Pfizer and Moderna have reported promising results from their vaccine trials, each planning to apply soon for emergency authorization for distribution.

So, what’s the hold-up? Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, has not yet signed the letter of ascertainment that would allow Biden, as president-elect, to speak with current government officials and access transition funding. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, the government-initiated effort to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, told the Financial Times that it is important for him to be able to communicate with Biden’s transition team — but that he can’t do that without approval from the current administration. 

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said during a news conference on Monday. “If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind — over a month, month-and-a-half.”

But don’t take Biden’s word for it. Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine described the coronavirus pandemic as a "humanitarian catastrophe" being made worse by Trump.

"I can't think of a more important time in modern American history," Hotez told CNN's Ana Cabrera. "We need a smooth transition. The fact that this is the time it won't occur will only mean greater loss of life, so this is incredibly heartbreaking."

It is heartbreaking. But the president is too busy tweeting lies and conspiracy theories, in a desperate attempt to cling to power, to consider those who will suffer from his prideful obstinacy.

He really doesn’t care. Do you?

Jessie Opoien is opinion editor of The Capital Times. jopoien@madison.com and @jessieopie

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