Public Health Lab Welcomes New Assistant Director

She likes a challenge.

So when Syreeta Steele, Ph.D. learned about the assistant director position at the County of San Diego Public Health Lab, she went for it.

Steele got it.

“It’s a big change for me,” said Steele, who was a supervisor at the Ventura County Public Health Lab, about one-third the size of San Diego’s. “I like working here very much. It’s been a very good experience.”

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Steele studied microbiology at the University of Arizona and went on to get a doctorate in environmental microbiology at the same institution.

Steele moved to California in 2011, when she landed a job as an emerging infectious disease post-doctoral fellow at the Los Angeles County Public Health Lab. She then moved to Ventura County where she worked for two and half years and worked on the 2015 measles outbreak, which started at Disneyland and spread to multiple states and counties, including San Diego.

“Syreeta is a great addition to our Public Health Lab,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “She is joining an exemplary team of microbiologists who are helping to protect the community and to prevent the spread of disease.”  

Steele says she enjoys the fast pace of the County’s Public Health Lab and working with different microorganisms.

“Every day is something different and I get to work with multiple diseases at the same time,” Steel said. It’s fascinating. Something you can’t see with the naked eye can cause a deadly disease.”

In addition to her assistant director duties, Steele is also working on a one-year project to compare three different beach water quality indicator methods.

“We test to detect the presence of bacteria such as total coliforms, fecal coliform and E.coli bacteria in local beaches,” said Steele. “Comparing the three methods will improve water quality testing for the beaches in the county which will then improve the safety of the swimmers at the beach.”

County Public Health Lab Director Brett Austin said he hired Steele in Ventura because of her extensive background in environmental microbiology. He was happy to see that she was in the pool of candidates when the assistant director position became open.

“The water quality protection responsibilities of the Public Health Laboratory are very important in Ventura and San Diego counties,” said Austin, who’s been in his position for about one year. “When I got the opportunity to lead the San Diego lab and we recruited for an assistant director, I was glad that Syreeta was among the very qualified candidates we interviewed.”