Ten ways Dr. Caitlin Pedati failed Iowans

State Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati is leaving the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) in late October, the agency announced on September 22.

The leader of Iowa’s COVID-19 response had hardly been seen in public all year and granted few media interviews. Pedati was an occasional speaker at Governor Kim Reynolds’ televised news conferences during the first eight months of the pandemic, but had not appeared at one since November 2020.

The unexplained departure raised questions about whether Pedati walked or was forced out. Reynolds’ new spokesperson Alex Murphy told Bleeding Heartland via email that no one in the governor’s office asked the medical director to leave. “This was a personal decision by Dr. Pedati.” Murphy also said the governor won’t pick her successor; rather, IDPH Director Kelly Garcia “and her team will handle the hiring.”

I’ll be seeking records that could show whether Pedati (a board-certified pediatrician) disagreed with any aspects of Iowa’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy, such as grossly inadequate guidance for schools or the retreat from recommending masks, even for unvaccinated people crowded together indoors.

Whether or not Pedati had any private misgivings, she repeatedly failed to keep Iowans safe or adequately informed during this pandemic, which has already killed more than 1 in 500 Iowa residents who were alive eighteen months ago.

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Governor muzzles public health experts on masks

Once upon a time, Governor Kim Reynolds postured as an advocate for mask wearing to reduce community transmission of COVID-19. Although she never consistently masked up when near others, and often sent mixed messages about whether face coverings were advisable for everyone or mainly for vulnerable people, she appeared in videos last year that promoted masks as one way to “step up and stop the spread.”

The governor stopped touting masks some months ago. In recent interviews and public appearances, she has claimed it’s not clear whether face coverings reduce virus transmission in schools, and has asserted that masks can harm children.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has similarly retreated from recommending masks as part of a layered COVID-19 mitigation strategy. The governor’s staff have micromanaged the public health agency’s communications with the media since the earliest days of the pandemic. At Reynolds’ latest news conference, she and a staff member intervened twice to stop IDPH Director Kelly Garcia from answering questions about the benefits of masks.

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Governor blocks Iowa schools from opening "safely and responsibly"

Governor Kim Reynolds loves to boast that Iowa “led the way” in bringing kids back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, “and we did it safely and responsibly.” The talking point was debatable last year, since Iowa’s new cases and hospitalizations began surging several weeks after schools reopened.

It’s laughable now, as Iowa schools prepare to welcome kids back this week. While the Delta variant has caused spikes in pediatric cases and hospitalizations where schools are already in session, Reynolds and leaders of Iowa’s education and public health departments have blocked nearly every practice that helped reduce COVID-19 spread in schools last year.

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State medical director misleads on COVID-19 nursing home data

State Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati asserted that publicly available information about coronavirus cases in Iowa nursing homes is “pretty similar” to what was long disclosed on the state’s official COVID-19 website.

Pedati made the false claim during a wide-ranging interview with Andy Kopsa of Iowa Watch, conducted soon after the state switched from daily to weekly updates on coronavirus.iowa.gov. As part of the revamp, officials removed a page that had shown current outbreaks in long term care facilities.

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Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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Exclusive: Test Iowa vendor gave officials talking points for PR video

Governor Kim Reynolds and other officials with important roles in Iowa’s COVID-19 response received talking points from Domo, Inc. before filming a promotional video for the company on state property last July.

The Utah-based firm, part of a group that received a $26 million no-bid contract to create the Test Iowa program, provided each interview subject with questions and “key statements” in advance, documents Bleeding Heartland received through a public records request show. State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the governor’s chief operating officer Paul Trombino, and others voiced some of those messages on camera.

Despite official claims that “no state resources were used” for the video, email records indicate two of the governor’s staffers spent time on preparations such as securing permissions to use different areas of the state capitol building. In addition, Trombino asked Dr. Michael Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Laboratory, to participate in the Test Iowa video.

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