116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — In an abrupt development and without explanation from her, Dr. Caitlin Pedati’s resignation as Iowa’s medical director and epidemiologist — and familiar face as the COVID-19 pandemic first struck — was announced Wednesday by the sate Department of Public Health.
One of the central figures in the state’s ongoing response to the pandemic, Pedati plans to leave in late October, according to a news release from the state, which includes comments from Gov. Kim Reynolds and interim state public health Director Kelly Garcia, but not Pedati.
When asked, the state public health department did not say why the announcement didn’t contain any comments from Pedati. A department spokeswoman would not make her available for an interview, saying Pedati’s focus is “working with her team to prepare for this transition.”
Spokespeople for the governor’s office and public health department said Pedati was not asked to resign by Reynolds or Garcia, and that the resignation was “a personal decision” of Pedati’s.
The announcement said Pedati plans to pursue new career opportunities. She was paid $229,545 in fiscal 2020, a 32 percent increase over her salary from the previous fiscal year, according to the state’s salary database.
“I want to thank Dr. Pedati for her outstanding service to the people of Iowa, especially throughout the pandemic,” Reynolds said in her statement. “She has been instrumental to our state’s strong COVID-19 response and a valued member of my team. I wish her much success and happiness in all that she pursues.”
Pedati served in her current role with the department since June 2018. Before that, she was a medical epidemiologist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Pedati was a visible adviser to Reynolds during the early months of the pandemic and was a regular contributor during the governor’s televised news briefings. In recent months, Pedati had assumed a less public role as the state launched an effort to get Iowans vaccinated against COVID-19. The virus’ delta variant has caused a surge in cases resulting in a new spike of hospitalizations and deaths.
“The work of the last 18 months has been difficult at best and I remain immensely appreciative of Dr. Pedati’s steadfast partnership throughout,” Garcia said in her statement. “I, along with our teams at IDPH and the Department of Human Services, will miss her. Her personal sacrifice is to be commended and we wish her the very best as she begins this new chapter.”
According to the most recent state public health data, 6,482 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed in Iowa, and more than 476,000 positive cases have been recorded. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been surging once again over recent months, reaching levels not seen since last winter’s deadly surge. Intensive care beds are at an all-time low for the pandemic, according to state public health data.
A pediatrician by trade, Pedati said in a May 2020 interview that one of the things that drew her to public health service was the ability to address health issues on a larger scale.
She became a vitally important and very public figure in the weeks after the new coronavirus was detected in Iowa in early March 2020. She helped provide the department’s guidance that in turn helped Reynolds set emergency policies, and she regularly appeared with the governor at briefings.
As with most governors, Reynolds has made myriad critical decisions, including to temporarily shut down schools and many businesses, and more recently when to begin relaxing some of those business restrictions.
Throughout the pandemic, Pedati never criticized Reynolds’ policies, even when they conflicted with medical science or public health consensus at the time. She was silent when Reynolds reopened businesses in May 2020 as the state continued to see high case counts and deaths. The governor took the posture that Iowans must “learn to live with COVID virus activity without letting it govern our lives,” although infectious disease experts said it was too soon and would lead to more illness and death.
Pedati also stood by as Reynolds refused to implement a mask mandate to slow the virus’ spread as recommended by medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
In early October, a federal task force in then-President Donald Trump’s administration told Reynolds that “many preventable deaths” were occurring in Iowa after she lifted business restrictions and refused to require that masks be worn in schools or other public places. Average deaths increased to 10 per day with 250 deaths in the month before the report.
Reynolds eventually implemented a limited mask requirement in mid-November after a record 1,510 people infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide. When she lifted it in February, she did not consult the public health department.
In August 2020, Pedati acknowledge she was aware of inaccuracies in the state’s coronavirus data when her agency used it to release flawed calculations that helped guide decisions on school openings and enrollment. Pedati said she became aware the previous month of a problem in Iowa’s disease surveillance reporting system that backdated thousands of new test results.
Pedati will become the second major player to leave the state public health agency since COVID-19 became the department’s focal point. Gerd Clabaugh stepped down as state public health director in July 2020, and Reynolds named Garcia to serve both as director of the state Department of Human Services and interim public health head.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.