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US colleges charge fees to test for coronavirus

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-20 11:02

A person has a nasal swab applied for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test taken at a mobile testing site in Times Square in New York City, on Aug 16, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Some US colleges and universities this fall will charge unvaccinated students hundreds of dollars to cover the cost of having them regularly tested for the coronavirus.

In Alabama, unvaccinated students at Birmingham-Southern College will be charged a $500 fee for the fall semester to offset the cost of weekly testing and quarantining. All 1,300 students will initially be charged, but those who have been vaccinated against the virus will receive an immediate refund, the school said on its website.

According to officials at the private liberal arts college, the fee is "due to the lack of federal funds for pandemic precautions", NBC News reported.

"We're not trying to charge everyone $500; we're trying to keep everybody safe," school President Daniel Coleman told WVTM. "If it encourages people to be vaccinated, then that's good, I think, for our campus and the safety of our campus."

Wesleyan College in West Virginia will charge unvaccinated students and those who do not submit proof of vaccination a non-refundable $750 COVID fee when they return to campus.

The private liberal arts college has roughly 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students. The college said it was not mandating the vaccine but would as soon as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally approves it for use beyond the current emergency-use status. Currently, the college encourages students and staff to get the shots prior to the start of the fall semester.

About 90 percent of the school's faculty and staff have been fully vaccinated, and a "large percentage of students" have received the shot, the school said.

Unvaccinated students will have to wear a mask and adhere to social distancing while on campus. They also will be required to undergo weekly testing. School officials said the fee will help cover the costs of testing.

Logan Bailey, a junior at Wesleyan, is upset about the fees schools say they will charge.

"These schools are trying to force you to take a vaccine that's not FDA approved fully," he told Fox News.

"This is not a punishment," Meghan Harte Weyant, vice-president for student life of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, told The New York Times.

Students who choose to return to campus unvaccinated without an exemption will have to cover the testing costs, she said.

"This is intended to ensure that students who are vaccinated do not have to bear that cost," she added.

Doctors typically charge about $50 to $100 for the tests, so the costs of weekly testing could add up quickly. Federal law requires insurance companies to fully cover the tests if ordered by healthcare providers, but routine workplace tests are exempt from that provision, according to the Times.

That means unvaccinated workers who have to obtain their own coronavirus testing could have to pay fees on their own. Charges for coronavirus tests can range from a few dollars to over $1,000.

Earlier this summer, Rhodes College required unvaccinated students without a medical or religious exemption to pay a $1,500 fee per semester to cover the costs associated with a weekly coronavirus testing program. But that fee was rescinded. Instead, the college will now mandate vaccination.

"Making students pay the fee is ethically justified. It's similar to making dangerous car owners pay higher insurance rates," Tae Wan Kim, a business ethics professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, told USA Today.

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