Let’s “Manage by Data” when dealing with COVID19

Trade-offs and Managing by Data.

The time I worked at SEMATECH (a semiconductor industry R&D consortium in Austin) was one of my career highlights.  I got to work with some of the brightest people in the chip world.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons there, including (i) everything in life involves trade-offs; and (ii) the importance of Managing by Data.

“Managing by Data” is a concept the chip makers had learned from their customers in the automobile industry. Gone were the days of playing it by ear.  Manufacturers needed to understand what their most important measurements were, and how to be consistent in the ways they took the measurements.

 COVID19 – The Right Data, and Acknowledging the Trade-offs.

I recently read an article, penned by five Notre Dame University professors, titled Recalculating the Risks. It is one of the few COVID19-related articles that acknowledges the legitimacy of doing risk-reward trade-offs instead of making every public health decision solely on the number of cases. https://ndsmcobserver.com/2020/08/recalculating-the-risks/

“As professors at Notre Dame, we have closely watched the debates over whether the University should send students home for the semester. A new danger stalks the world, and it is not clear when we will have it under control. Nevertheless, we think the right decision is to have students learn and live together in person. We recognize there are some risks, especially to faculty and staff, but we do not think they are high enough to deprive students of the opportunities we were fortunate enough to enjoy at their age. Our society has already made young people sacrifice so much during the pandemic. Based on our understanding of the risks and present situation, we think shuttering the campus indefinitely and banishing students to isolated online learning would be unjust.” (emphasis added)

“Notre Dame has worked hard to prepare for the fall semester and take reasonable precautions for a safe return to campus. The temporary spike is concerning, but it does not merit the stark remedy of sending everyone home. We think that those who have voiced worries about the positive test results are focusing on the wrong numbers. This is in part because the Notre Dame dashboard focuses on positive cases alone. The more relevant metric is hospitalizations and mortality. By those measures, Notre Dame is doing extremely well and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so.” (emphasis added).

I reviewed several other dashboards COVID19, including the one for the state of Idaho. Most of those dashboards reveal that the decisions to open or close businesses, schools, etc., are being made primarily on the number of total cases (confirmed and probable/suspected).


I think we will all make better public health decisions if we (i) focus on the most relevant data; and (ii) factor more than just the total case counts into those decisions.  I suspect the authors of the Notre Dame article would see that as a just result.

Thank you!

Michael Oswald



Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.

© 2020 Michael S. Oswald

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