While currently in the midst of battling a pandemic, San Luis Obispo County is getting nearly $300,000 for infectious disease prevention.

County Supervisors accepted a $291,000, 1-time grant from the California Department of Public Health, Division of Communicable Disease Control, part of an overall $35 million statewide program that was approved in July 2019, long before the Coronavirus Pandemic hit this past March.

The monies were to be allocated to local health departments, and Native American tribes “based on disease burden, population impact, and geographical area in a manner that spreads the funding to as many local health jurisdictions as possible to provide meaningful services.”

“The funding,” reads a report from County Health officials, “must be used to implement public health activities to address gaps in core public health functions and respond to increases in workloads associated with high priority, preventable infectious diseases.

“The money is intended to last through June 2023. In SLO County, the Health Department wants to use it to hire a 3/4ths time Health Education Specialist, whose job it will be to review “epidemiological data to identify relevant priority infectious diseases in San Luis Obispo County, conduct outreach to medical providers to provide education on disease-specific topics and any emerging infectious diseases, conduct community education via social media and other outlets, and gain access to laboratory portals to assist with communicable disease investigation efforts.”

The money will also help pay for an existing epidemiologist who will recruit doctors “for influenza surveillance, and to recruit hospital systems to implement a syndromic surveillance system.”

Such a system would gather information on symptoms like cough, fever, and shortness of breath, among others.

“However, in practice,” the report said, “certain syndromic surveillance systems collect surrogate data indicating early illness [e.g., school or work absenteeism data or veterinary data such as unexpected avian deaths or other potential precursors of human illness].”

Keeping an eye on animal diseases is a good early way to stay ahead of potential viruses and diseases that might jump to humans.

“As we know with COVID-19, some diseases that typically affect animals or birds can also cause disease or outbreaks in humans, all in coordination with the agricultural community.”