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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The story of the Safe at School Sit-In

Julie Russell-Steuart is a printmaker and activist who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Urgency

On August 11, a Wednesday morning, four moms of school-aged kids arrived at the Iowa State Capitol to put on an event called the Safe at School Sit-In. Two of them had met the previous day, but this was the first time everyone had met each other in person. The fifth member was anxiously keeping an eye on her Facebook Messenger and waiting for the live feed from the Iowans for Public Education Facebook page.

Twelve days earlier, Erin Dahl and Julie Russell-Steuart, both disability advocates, had discussed wanting to do something about the failure of virtually every state institution to protect vulnerable kids and Iowans in general from COVID-19. The next day, Erin saw a post by Brook Easton on Educators for a Safe Return to School Facebook group, saying how it was incredible no one had organized a protest yet, and tagged Julie.

The post turned up more moms wanting to take action. A group was quickly formed and the first of many Zoom meetings and probably hundreds of Facebook Messages started.

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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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Utah attorney sues state agency for Test Iowa records

An attorney representing the board chair of the Salt Lake Tribune has sued the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and its records custodian for failing to provide email correspondence related to the $26 million Test Iowa program.

Paul Huntsman confirmed on July 30 that the lawsuit Suzette Rasmussen filed in Polk County the previous day is part of his Jittai initiative. The Tribune’s board chair recently created Jittai in order “to learn more about TestUtah and its sister programs” created through similar no-bid contracts in Iowa, Tennessee, and Nebraska. Florida also implemented parts of the program.

According to the court filing, which is posted in full below, Rasmussen wrote to Sarah Ekstrand in March seeking “copies of all correspondence between the Iowa Department of Public Health, including but not limited to Interim Director Kelly Garcia, and the Iowa Governor’s Office, Utah state officials, Nebraska state officials, and Tennessee state officials regarding the Test Iowa Contract” from March 1, 2020 to March 11, 2021.

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Can Governor Reynolds put Iowa kids' well-being ahead of politics?

Concerned parent Tanya Keith reached out to Governor Kim Reynolds’ staff and interviewed infectious disease Dr. Megan Srinivas. -promoted by Laura Belin

Less than a month before school starts, Governor Kim Reynolds is putting politics ahead of my daughter’s life and well-being. I am one of the thousands of Iowa parents bearing the burden of having a child under 12, who is too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Anyone following pandemic science updates has been fed a daily diet of rising concern. First, the World Health Organization recommended that all individuals mask inside, even if they are vaccinated. Then the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all K-12 students be masked, regardless of vaccination status. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control just echoed that guidance.

As an Iowa parent, I know that it is currently against the law for masks to be required at school. If you’re reading this from another state, that may sound bizarre, but I assure you it’s true. In May, Reynolds signed a bill in the middle of the night to ban mask mandates, so schools were left scrambling to come up with new policy days from the finish line of a grueling academic year.

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