Idaho university ‘deeply troubled’ by students contracting COVID-19 to sell plasma

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An Idaho university has issued a warning about reports that students have “intentionally exposed themselves or others” to the novel coronavirus in order to make money by selling their plasma with COVID-19 antibodies.

A statement posted by Brigham Young University-Idaho on Monday says staff is “actively seeking evidence of any such conduct,” which the school is “deeply troubled” by.

The university is warning any students who have intentionally exposed themselves or others to the virus will be suspended and may even be expelled.

“The contraction and spread of COVID-19 is not a light matter,” the statement reads. “Reckless disregard for health and safety will inevitably lead to additional illness and loss of life in our community.”

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The school’s statement also urges students to seek out the university’s financial and health resources, noting the “physical, emotional, and financial strain of this pandemic is very real.”

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“There is never a need to resort to behaviour that endangers health or safety in order to make ends meet,” the statement reads.

As of Tuesday, the Rexburg, Idaho campus has reported 109 active cases of COVID-19 among students and an additional 22 among employees. The combined cases represent over a third of all active cases in the surrounding Madison County.

Statewide, coronavirus cases are seeing another peak nearly matching the one seen in July, according to state health data. Idaho reported 584 new positive test results Thursday, continuing a trend of over 500 new cases every day since the beginning of October.

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Brigham Young University-Idaho issued a statement in late September warning that if the rate of infection on campus and Madison County doesn’t improve, the school may be forced to move to online learning only and shut down the campus entirely.

According to a New York Times survey of 1,700 U.S. colleges and universities, more than 1,400 campuses have reported over 178,000 cases and at least 70 deaths among students, faculty and staff since the pandemic began.

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In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma from COVID-19 patients. The action isn’t the same as approving plasma as safe and effective, and numerous rigorous studies are underway to find out if it really works.

“COVID-19 convalescent plasma should not be considered a new standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19,” Denise Hinton, the FDA’s chief scientist, wrote in a letter describing the emergency authorization.

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“Additional data will be forthcoming from other analyses and ongoing, well-controlled clinical trials in the coming months.”

The World Health Organization cautioned immediately after the U.S. announcement that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy.

—With files from the Associated Press

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