Every morning, Dakota Chelsea gets up and walks his two dogs. He eats a banana and an egg sandwich for breakfast. Then the Palm Beach County resident dives into the coronavirus headlines on Twitter and Reddit.
Chelsea isn’t just devouring articles to see what news broke while he slept. Since July, the 25-year-old has crunched and shared coronavirus numbers with nearly 160,000 Florida Reddit users every day.
He tracks positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths in daily posts in the online communities of r/FloridaCoronavirus and r/Florida. He explains lags in testing. Recently, he added more onto his plate — breaking down how many Floridians have received vaccines so far.
It’s all done on a volunteer basis.
“I wanted to inform people what the daily numbers are everyday, which is my routine now,” he wrote to a Tampa Bay Times reporter. “Plus, I like to know the numbers everyday due to me being high-risk population.”
Chelsea has lung problems from cerebral palsy, asthma and epilepsy. His work not only helps to keep people informed during a confusing time. He also hopes to inspire.
“I wanted to show people that a Hemiplegia Cerebral Palsy person can do stuff on my own and I’m like everyone else, with just one hand to do everything,” he wrote over Discord, an internet-based messaging platform. It’s easier for him to communicate by typing due to a speech impediment called dysarthria.
Chelsea uses a spreadsheet to calculate the numbers from the Florida Department of Health before copying and pasting the info onto Reddit forums under the username u/Ishkoten (a Native American word in his tribe that means thunder) He picked up the data skills in an introductory statistics course at Florida Atlantic University a few years ago.
Before the pandemic, Chelsea attended classes there for his Interdisciplinary Studies major. He loved hanging out with friends and playing games in the student union.
But since COVID-19 hit Florida, classes went virtual and he stays home. He sees his mother, who brings groceries and stays masked the whole time. His dogs, Luna and Nagi, keep him company the rest of the time.
While in-person interactions are limited, Chelsea keeps busy online. When he isn’t breaking down pandemic numbers, he plays video games, watches anime and manga and makes videos for his YouTube channels. Many of his videos are dedicated to his hobbies. He has a separate channel, Adventures with Dakota, for vlogs, including videos that show how he navigates life using one hand.
“Without those communities, he really wouldn’t have the socialization that he does, especially at this time with COVID,” said his mother, Chassidy Chelsea. “He’s a well balanced young man and I couldn’t be prouder to have him as my son.”
Chelsea sends his mom stats every morning. When she comes over, they talk about the coronavirus numbers in the state. But she didn’t realize that he was working with the data himself until a few months ago.
“I thought he was just reading the paper and just wanted to talk about it,” she said. “He gets something that he’s interested in and that’s what he pays attention to.”
Online communities like r/Florida and r/FloridaCoronavirus play an important role in helping the public during a crisis, said James Doty, a Reddit moderator based in Melbourne Beach.
“We’ve had 400,000 dead Americans … we want to make sure that people in Florida are informed, if nothing else,” Doty said.
Before Chelsea came along, moderators on r/Florida were drawing straws to determine who would be tasked with the daily coronavirus numbers. After Chelsea started posting in the summer, a group of moderators that run local Florida subreddits quickly reached out to bring him on board.
“He’s kicking ass doing that — it’s a hard task,” Doty said. “It’s good for the community and it’s good for the state.”
Chelsea and the other moderators post news stories and sift through reported content to keep the forums civil. Sometimes Redditors point out mistakes, and he learns from them. For the most part, readers are grateful. They notice when he’s not around, like when he took off a week as his own family was battling the coronavirus. He lost his grandfather and his step-grandfather to the illness.
“When I stop for couple days people will start to worry something happened to me,” he said.
At a time when much is still uncertain, his fellow Redditors appreciate how dependable Chelsea is. They also take time to thank him for his daily updates.
Ishkoten “is the real MVP for our COVID info,” one user wrote.
“You’ve been central to this group,” another commented. “Thank you for documenting the void for us all year.”
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
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A TRIBUTE TO THE FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.
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