A spike in novel coronavirus cases in recent days across major U.S. states like Florida and Texas caused their governors to partially reverse their reopening plans, just days after President Donald Trump falsely asserted the uptick had resulted from increased testing and said officials should “slow the testing down.”
In a newly released interview, taped on May 28, Los Angeles Clippers Chairman and former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer said that data should inform policy decisions that aim to combat the coronavirus crisis, but noted that “reasonable people can make different choices” about managing the pandemic.
“These things essentially are judgments — tough judgments — between death and misery,” Ballmer told Yahoo Finance. “Misery when people lose jobs and are hard hit financially and death obviously from the disease.”
In 2017, Ballmer founded USAFacts, a nonprofit organization that curates and distributes publicly available government data. The group launched a coronavirus tracking page in mid-March, which includes a county-level map of cases and deaths used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Political leaders and everyday Americans should form such judgments with data in mind, Ballmer said.
“From a USAFacts perspective, we hope they make them well-informed with the numbers, what really happened, and do they need to change course,” he says. “It’ll be very important to continue to assess in a real-time way.”
Tension over how to reopen the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus outbreak has embroiled the nation in recent weeks, as Trump criticized the restrictions and differed publicly with the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, over how to weigh public health risks against economic pain.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the recent increase in coronavirus cases had resulted from an expansion of the country’s testing capacity, though public health officials have widely disputed that claim. At a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last Saturday, he urged officials to “slow the testing down,” though trade adviser Peter Navarro later said he was kidding.
Since the outbreak became widely known, prominent conservative media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson have suggested that recorded death toll from the virus may be inflated.
The U.S. on Thursday reported a single-day record 39,972 new cases, which included increases in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbot, who are both Republicans, announced on Friday new restrictions on bars in their respective states to stem the spread of the virus.
Ballmer made the remarks in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
After a 14-year tenure as chief executive of Microsoft, Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. He also holds a stake in Second Spectrum, a company collects and provides player performance data for the National Basketball Association, Premier League, and Major League Soccer.
USAFacts provides U.S. voters and political leaders with the statistical information they need to make informed choices, Ballmer said, just as shareholders and business leaders rely earnings reports and other metrics.
“If this was a business, that’s the basis on which you would publish information to your shareholders, you’d make decisions,” he said.
“We’re working on getting governments to use data,” he added. “Getting voters and citizens to respect data.
“You can’t disagree about what’s happened,” Ballmer said. “There are numbers — they are produced by the government.”