Dr. Caitlin Pedati, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health and the state’s epidemiologist, will be leaving her position in “late October,” the department announced in a news release on Wednesday. According to IDPH, “Dr. Pedati plans to pursue new career opportunities.”
Pedati has held her current job since June 2018, but didn’t come to the public spotlight until COVID-19 was first confirmed in the state in March 2020. The doctor was regularly featured in Gov. Reynolds’ COVID-19 news conferences last year, but has made noticeably fewer appearances and given fewer interviews this year. The IDPH news release does not contain any statement from Pedati, only quotes attributed to Reynolds and Kelly Garcia, who has been interim director of IDPH for the last 14 months.
“She has been instrumental to our state’s strong COVID-19 response and a valued member of my team,” Reynolds said in the statement after thanking Pedati for her service. “I wish her much success and happiness in all that she pursues.”
Pedati has steadfastly supported the governor, as Reynolds rejected advice from public health experts at all levels, international (WHO), national (CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force), as well as state and local (the Iowa Public Health Association, among others).
As IDPH medical director, Pedati has been willing to endorse the state’s lack of many basic pandemic precautions, such as face mask mandates, and to push policies that prioritized keeping businesses open even as the rate of COVID-19 spread increased and spiked among some workers, such as meat-processing plant employees.
Under Pedati’s guidance, IDPH refused to disclose any workplace outbreaks of COVID-19, unless reporters directly asked about a particular worksite. Pedati also defended the department’s unusually strict definition of what constitutes a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility, which reduced the information on virus spread in nursing homes disclosed by the state.
The quality of information IDPH has provided the public during the pandemic has often been called into question, and in August 2020, the department was forced to admit it has been misreporting COVID-19 case numbers for months, after Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner who had been independently monitoring the data, discovered the department was altering its numbers.
In an interview with the Gazette, Pedati confirmed she and others in the department knew for weeks the data was wrong, but continued to present it to the public as accurate.
Pedati’s approach to public health attracted the admiration of President Donald Trump, albeit in a fleeting manner. When the doctor accompanied Reynolds to a meeting at the White House in May 2020, Trump said during a photo-op, “I’m stealing her.”
After some good-natured back-and-forth with Reynolds, he said, “I’m not going to steal her.”
“But I think you should be on the [White House Coronavirus Task Force],” Trump said to Pedati. “Would you like to do that?”
“Mr. President, I’d be happy to serve however you would like,” Pedati replied.
An unnamed White House official later told Bloomberg News later that day Trump’s statement was not actually an invitation to join the task force, but Reynolds insisted it was real and happening. The unnamed White House official was correct, and Pedati was not added to the task force.
During their visit, Reynolds and Pedati were exposed to a White House staffer who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, and the doctor and governor had to quarantine themselves.
Although Pedati did not get the national recognition that comes with joining the White House Coronavirus Task Force, she has been well compensated for her work in Iowa. In August 2020, Laura Bellin of Bleeding Heartland broke the news that Pedati has received a 45 percent pay raise the previous month, which would add “an extra $81,744 in base salary over twelve months.” The pay increase brought Pedati’s annual salary to $265,044.
Bellin also revealed that in 2020 Pedati “received $55,515.58 in overtime compensation from early March through the pay period ending July 9,” more than any other state employee.
“How the overtime was calculated is unclear,” Bellin wrote, after reviewing state documents.
In its statement on Wednesday morning, IDPH said it “will work quickly to fill [Pedati’s] position.” The vacancy, however temporary, will leave two top positions at the department empty. IDPH has not had a full-time director since July 30, 2020. Kelly Garcia, who already has a full-time position as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, has been serving as interim director since the last director resigned.