BYU-Idaho says students may be trying to get COVID-19 so they can sell their plasma

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pictured is the John Taylor Building at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. The school has recently warned students against purposefully contracting COVID-19 so they can sell their plasma.

Administrators at Brigham Young University’s campus in Idaho believe some students are purposefully exposing themselves to COVID-19 with the hope that they’ll be able to sell their plasma after they recover.

In a statement late Monday, the school said it has recently received several accounts of students trying to get the virus for later compensation and is currently investigating. If it confirms that a student has done so, the university added, that individual will be suspended — and possibly permanently dismissed from BYU-Idaho.

“The contraction and spread of COVID-19 is not a light matter,” the school wrote in its warning. "We urge all members of the campus community to act respectfully and responsibly by observing all public health and university protocols and placing the well-being of others above personal benefit or convenience.''

It reiterated, too, that if the spike around the university continues, officials may choose to move classes entirely online.

The message comes after several local plasma centers in Idaho near the school have offered to pay extra for donations from those who have recovered from the coronavirus and have the antibodies.

BioLife in nearby Ammon pays $200 per donation for the first two weeks from someone who was previously positive for the virus, according to its website. And Biomat USA in Rexburg, where BYU-Idaho is located, offers $100 per donation for as long as the antibody remains in an individual’s plasma.

The donations are used to help treat severely ill patients, and the plasma is in high demand during the pandemic.

“It takes anywhere from 130 donations to 1,300 donations to treat one patient for one year, depending on their condition,” said Vlasta Hakes, a spokeswoman for Grifols, the parent company for Biomat USA.

The companies also accept plasma from those without COVID-19 antibodies to help fight other diseases. But it’s not as lucrative. At Biomat, for instance, donors get $25, with increases depending on how often they come in after that.

Hakes said the compensation is meant to pay donors for their time. She said it was never meant to be a way for people to make money, and she strongly discourages students from trying to get the virus to do so.

“It’s ludicrous," she said Tuesday, “for anyone to get intentionally sick to donate plasma.”

For one thing, there’s no guarantee how long the antibodies will remain in your system. Plasma donors who had COVID-19 have to be symptom-free for 14 days before they’re eligible to donate. So, even though someone can donate plasma twice a week, the payout might be short-lived.

Hakes also said there’s no way to tell how sick someone might get from COVID-19. Students could be risking their life — and potentially infecting others — for a little extra cash. Biomat USA, she added, is now working with BYU-Idaho to “alleviate those concerns” of students purposefully trying to get the virus.

BYU-Idaho, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has seen similar issues with coronavirus spread as the main campus in Provo. Posts on social media show students attending large dance parties. Hundreds are crowded onto the floor without masks.

Unlike in Provo, some of those parties have specifically been advertised as a way to get COVID-19, promising at least one positive person there, according to some Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The school said in its statement that it is “deeply troubled” and “condemns this behavior.” When reached by The Salt Lake Tribune for comment, though, BYU-Idaho’s spokesman said he had nothing further to add.

The spokeswoman for Eastern Idaho Public Health office also said it’s "working to substantiate” the information after receiving several tips about the parties.

The Idaho school has 131 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. That’s up from 75 last week. It sits in Madison County, which is considered a hot spot for spread. The state moved the area back to a high-risk level last week.

Additionally, The New York Times identified Rexburg as having the highest number of new cases per capita of all the metro areas in the country. And the White House’s coronavirus task force released a report earlier this month encouraging BYU-Idaho to move online, given the circumstances.

As part of its statement, the school said that option remains on the table. It also added if students are struggling to find the money to pay for classes — with tuition around $2,000 per semester — or to cover rent or groceries, the university can help.

“There is never a need to resort to behavior that endangers health or safety in order to make ends meet,” BYU-Idaho said.

Students can access resources by calling 208-496-9200 or emailing studentwellbeing@byui.edu.

(Screenshot) BYU-Idaho sent out a warning to students on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, about intentionally trying to contract COVID-19.