When the pandemic hit, Misty Orpin of Springdale had a choice to make: Should she spend her spare time playing video games, or gather data on covid-19 in Arkansas and post it on Twitter @ArkansasCovid and at arkansascovid.com?
"I'd just gotten the new Animal Crossing release," she says, referring to the popular game. "I was like, which one of these things am I going to spend the next few months of my life doing?"
It was not the video game.
As the pandemic spread, Orpin, 41, a former reporter at The Courier in Russellville and the Benton County Daily Record, wanted to capture each day's data from the Arkansas Department of Health "in as detailed a way as I could."
The Twitter account, which has more than 8,200 followers, came first. She started the website so her Twitter-averse father could follow the numbers.
On both platforms, Orpin provides charts and graphics with data on new cases, active infections, hospitalizations and ventilator use, testing, deaths and other categories. She also fact-checks data from the state and media, and there is a Spanish version of the data at the website.
She's doing all of this while handling marketing duties for her family's business, Black Apple Hard Cider, and caring for her sons Cyrus, 2, and Crey, 14.
A typical day involves "a lot of spreadsheets and screaming," she says as Cyrus fusses in the background. "A lot of my time is spent answering questions via email and Twitter. Then I usually have a couple of projects that I want to look into. Today I wanted to dive deeper into hospitalizations and ICU usage, and how does that compare to two weeks ago."
Things really start rolling around 4 p.m., when the state Health Department releases its data.
"It takes me several hours to get all of that inputted and analyzed and out to people," she says.
Among the data she recommends readers follow closely are those from counties.
"What matters most is what's happening right around you," she says. "That's where your risk of infection is coming from."
She says she would like to see "more granular" data from the state on hospitalizations per county, cases broken down by ZIP codes and more information on who is dying from the virus.
Orpin gets help from Mary Hennigan, a journalism student at the University of Arkansas. Hennigan's work is funded by Arkansas Soul, a media workshop for high school and college students, and the Northwest Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, how much longer will Orpin continue?
"I have tried to figure out a succession plan if there is a point where I can't do it," she says. "I don't want it to die, and I think there is the ability for another group to take it over."
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