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Iowa leader of virus response leaving public health agency

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s medical director, who was a visible adviser to Gov. Kim Reynolds in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, will quit her job next month, the state’s Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.

Dr. Caitlin Pedati, who also serves as the state epidemiologist, appeared in numerous press conferences Reynolds regularly held last year as COVID-19 cases spread throughout Iowa. Pedati has taken a much less public role more recently, as the state has experienced a surge in cases involving the delta variant that has sickened more children and young adults.

Officials didn’t say why Pedati was leaving and only stated she “plans to pursue new career opportunities.”

Throughout the pandemic Pedati largely followed Reynolds’ policies even when they conflicted with medical science 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 virus spread as recommended by medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a White House virus task force.

In early October, a federal task force in former 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 daily deaths increased to 10 per day with 250 deaths in the month prior to 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.

Prior to her role in Iowa, Pedati worked as medical epidemiologist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Reynolds said Pedati was “instrumental to our state’s strong COVID-19 response and a valued member of my team.”

The health department release said the agency will work quickly to fill the position.