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University says students may be intentionally getting coronavirus so they can sell antibody plasma

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Brigham Young University's campus in Idaho said this week it is investigating claims that some students are "intentionally" trying to get sick with COVID-19 in order to sell their plasma for cash. The university said it plans to suspend any students caught attempting to contract the virus on purpose. 

The school, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, strongly condemned the alleged behavior during the pandemic in a statement Monday. 

"BYU-Idaho is deeply troubled by accounts of individuals who have intentionally exposed themselves or others to COVID-19, with the hope of getting the disease and being paid for plasma that contains COVID-19 antibodies," the school said. 

The university said it is currently investigating incidents on campus. It warned that students caught intentionally exposing themselves or others will be immediately suspended and subject to expulsion. 

"The contraction and spread of COVID-19 is not a light matter," school officials said. "Reckless disregard for health and safety will inevitably lead to additional illness and loss of life in our community." 

In convalescent plasma therapy, doctors collect plasma from donors who have recovered from COVID-19 and give it to patients who are still fighting to survive. It has been used across the country as a treatment for COVID-19 after the Food and Drug Administration approved its use in August. 

The FDA says plasma "may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product." Potential plasma donors must be symptom-free for at least 14 days as a requirement for donation. 

One donation site, located close to the university, says on its website that it will pay survivors of COVID-19 $100 per visit "as a special thank you" for "saving lives during a pandemic." The site says that survivors can potentially donate plasma multiple times. 

East Idaho News reports that another nearby donation site is offering donors $200 for each of their first two visits.

BYU-Idaho is urging students to seek both financial and mental health resources at the university, rather than attempting to contract the deadly virus.

"If students are struggling, BYU-Idaho stands ready to help," the school said. "There is never a need to resort to behavior that endangers health or safety in order to make ends meet." 

This week, the New York Times ranked Rexburg, Idaho, where the school is located, as the metropolitan area with the greatest number of new cases, relative to its population, in the last two weeks. 

As of Tuesday, BYU-Idaho had confirmed 119 active student cases of COVID-19 and 20 active employee cases. The school recently warned that it may return to fully-remote learning if recent spikes in cases in the county continue. 

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