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Some West Virginia businesses charge a ‘COVID-19 fee,’ but is it legal?

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) As the pandemic wears on, some West Virginia businesses are having to make difficult decisions. Faced with the additional hours of cleaning and supply costs, some are taking the unusual step of charging a 'COVID-19 fee.'

But is it legal?

Seby Bell runs Computer Chick in Beckley. She made the decision to stay open through the pandemic, but made several new investments to protect her customers. Among them were the purchase of gloves, masks, and rubbing alcohol.

"Things that normally wouldn't be very expensive are impossible to get right now or very expensive."

But the biggest investment she said was her time spent making sure her customers were safe. She uses a UVC disinfectant machine, a half hour process before and after each customer, to disinfect every machine. It is for that reason she charges a $50 'COVID-19 fee.'

"In a service based business, I have to charge for my time. And that was the biggest factor in that decision."

Currently, the state's emergency price gouging law remains in effect during the 'Safer at Home order.' That means businesses cannot raise prices on their product by more than ten percent.

But according to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, that doesn't necessarily mean Bell is breaking the law. She claims she is offering a different type of service that justifies the cost.

"There are legitimate services that can be performed at market value that could be permissible. But our price gouging law applies during the state of emergency. You need to look at where the price was days before the declaration occurred and where it is now. You compare that."

Morrisey said it is a matter of comparing apples and apples versus apples and oranges.

On social media, there are numerous other reports about businesses, including medical providers, also charging a 'COVID-19 fee.'

According to public interest attorney and Attorney General candidate Sam Petsonk, (D), when there is a question over the legality of those costs, it's best to take questions or concerns about the fee to the Attorney General's office or West Virginia's Insurance Commission.

"Any time a business or health care provider charges unusual fees that place burdens on consumers, consumers should then take that concern to the Attorney General or Insurance Commission which monitors the retail costs and protects consumers."

Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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