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College Says Students May Have Sought COVID-19 Infection To Boost Plasma Donor Payout

Administrators at Brigham Young University's campus in southeastern Idaho say they are "deeply troubled" by reports that students may have intentionally tried to contract COVID-19, lured by blood donation centers that are paying a premium for plasma with COVID-19 antibodies.

"Students who are determined to have intentionally exposed themselves or others to the virus will be immediately suspended from the university and may be permanently dismissed," the university said in a statement issued Monday.

The school condemned the behavior, saying it is "actively seeking evidence of any such conduct among our student body."

Possible donation sites for BYU-Idaho students include the Grifols Biomat USA Rexburg location, whose website touts its close proximity to the BYU-Idaho campus in downtown Rexburg. The company's site has a page devoted to survivors of COVID-19 as part of its effort to collect convalescent plasma.

"As a special thanks, those who give convalescent plasma will earn $100 per visit," the company says. It also says that for people who have recovered from the disease, "As your body produces more to maintain your immunity, you can potentially donate multiple times."

In recent months, the company has been offering $50 to new plasma donors, with progressively higher amounts for people making multiple donations within a month.

Another donation center, BioLife Plasma Services in nearby Ammon, pays convalescent plasma donors $200 for each of their first two visits, according to East Idaho News.

In late August, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of convalescent plasma from coronavirus survivors as an emergency therapy for people with COVID-19. The agency says that antibody-containing plasma "may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks."

According to an online screening service, potential COVID-19 plasma donors must be symptom free for at least 14 days, among other health requirements.

Urging students not to contract the viral disease on purpose, BYU-Idaho says any students who are in a desperate situation should seek financial and mental health resources at its Student Well-Being office.

"There is never a need to resort to behavior that endangers health or safety in order to make ends meet," the school said.

The college, which has some 34,000 students on campus, along with 15,000 online students, recently warned of a potential campus closure, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus and in the surrounding region. The school currently reports 109 active cases among students and 22 among employees.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.