News and analysis: Rattay announces departure as public health director


State Public Health Director Dr. Karyn Rattay announced she will leave this post on June 30 after two years in the spotlight.

Rattay presided over the typically low-profile division during a lengthy and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that still has 100 people in the hospital. The number of cases has declined sharply from winter 2022 highs.

She was a mainstay at the governor’s briefings on the virus and passed along pandemic trends and advice on masks, vaccinations and other matters.

Rattay has been listed as the nation’s longest-serving public health director. Departures and firings of public health directors were frequent during the Covid-19 crisis.

Delaware is unusual among states, which typically operate public health departments at the county level, with a smaller state health department. Delaware’s Division of Public Health has about 1,000 employees. It is also part of the sprawling Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, a cabinet department with thousands of employees.


Dr. Rattay was one of a number of state officials that the administration of Gov. Jack Markell brought in from outside state government. The new blood was credited with reforms in a state known for an insular “not invented here” culture and occasional scandals in state agencies.

Most of the officials who joined the Markell Administration departed before or shortly after Gov. John Carney succeeded Markell. Carney has tended to stay with the former pattern of internal promotions of veteran state staffers.

The current governor was lavish in praising Rattay’s tenure as health director.

“When you work with someone through a crisis, you really see what they’re made of. Dr. Rattay is smart, steady, focused, and committed,” stated Carney. “Most importantly, though, she is kind and compassionate. Her style of leadership and her work ethic are what helped Delaware make it through this pandemic. And the work Dr. Rattay did at Public Health in the decade leading up to the pandemic is why her team was ready and able to step up and manage this crisis. We will miss Dr. Rattay as a member of our team, and I am personally grateful to her for all she did to lead us through this once-in-a-generation public health crisis.”

“It has been the greatest honor of my lifetime to serve Delawareans in this role, Rattay stated. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served under Governor Carney and Governor Markell before him.  I could not be prouder of the DPH team and what we have accomplished together over the past 13 years.”

In the past two years, Rattay was thrust into the spotlight for decisions related to business closings and capacity limits. While Carney was the target of most criticism, Rattay was not exempt.

This month, the public policy group A Better Delaware, led by Shoprite supermarket executive Chris Kenny released a video that featured some businesspeople critical of the administration’s restrictions during the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr. Rattay stated that leading the state through the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years – the greatest public health crisis in a century –  tested those in public health departments professionally and personally. She added that she was not ready to announce her plans but was excited by the opportunities.

The release announcing her departure stated in bold-face type that Rattay would not be available for interviews, an unusual occurrence in a state where such statements are rare.

The release went on to cite accomplishments under Rattay’s leadership that included reducing the state’s high infant mortality rate.

Dr. Rattay earned a Medical Doctorate from the Medical University of Ohio in 1992 and a Master of Science in Epidemiology from the University of Maryland in 2001. She completed her Pediatric Residency at Georgetown University and a Preventive Medicine and Public Health Residency training program at the University of Maryland.

Rattay is board-certified in pediatrics and practiced pediatrics for 14 years. During her career, she served as a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health.