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The Coronavirus-Disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which emerged in the US in the spring of 2020, is caused by infection with the second clinically significant version of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Virus. It is a member of the “Coronavirus” (CoV) family. The virus has thus been designated SARS-CoV-2.

People infected with SARS-CoV-2 shed the virus through the gastrointestinal tract in the pre- and post-symptomatic phases of infection, and into wastewater streams. SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus that mutates rapidly. Its genomic RNA can be isolated from wastewater and measured via a common laboratory test termed RT-qPCR. Such surveillance testing of wastewater for pathogens is called wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE).  

In the summer of 2020, on the heels of initial campus closure early in the pandemic, the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District (KWRD) and Northern Illinois University explored the possibility of creating a SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance testing program. University leadership viewed the program as integral to a comprehensive return-to-campus plan (Protecting the Pack). The laboratory was set up in the fall of 2020 and launched its testing program in January 2021

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