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Why you might see a COVID-19 fee on your next vet, barber or restaurant bill

Some restaurants, barbers and veterinary offices are charging extra to help cover the cost of PPE or other required changes

ST. LOUIS — When Julie Immer recently took her dog, Coco, into the vet, she noticed something new on the bill: a $9.95 surcharge for "COVID-19 hazardous handling."

"I guess I just thought, 'Wow, are all businesses going to start charging this amount?' Because that could get pretty expensive," Immer said.

Chippewa Animal Hospital is one of the many St. Louis vet offices that uses a COVID-19 surcharge.

"Thirty to 40% of practices are doing some kind of charge, but all practices are doing something," Dr. Thomas Goss said.

Goss said their practice uses a $9.95 fee to offsets their higher costs for PPE-like masks and gowns, as well as leashes for each animal coming in. Goss estimates they're also seeing about a 25% decrease in patients since each appointment takes twice as long.

"Ninety-nine percent of our clients are understanding," Goss said. "One, They are happy that we are here and two, they understand that we are working under duress."

Though Goss says a couple of clients have accused them of opportunism, adding, "nobody says 'Oh great, I get to pay another $10 on my bill.'"

At Sonny's Barbershop in South City, Aimee Durham said her industry's dealing with the same issues.

"Oh man, it has been a little overwhelming. It has been crazy. Everybody is in need of a haircut right now," she said. 

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While Durham deals with high demand, she's scheduling an extra 15 minutes before each appointment for a more thorough cleaning. She says she's absorbing the financial cost of reduced client time, instead of passing it to her customers.

"I know a lot of barbers are raising their prices due to all of the risks, but — me personally — I know people are out of jobs right now, they are just getting back to work, they are trying to catch up on their bills, and so I don't feel like it's fair for me to raise my prices right now," Durham said.

As food costs rise, one West Plains, Missouri, restaurant posted signs informing customers of their intention to add a COVID-19 surcharge.

Several family members and I were back in West Plains, and went here Saturday night. We were a littl... e worried because it's in a log cabin with a For Sale sign, and when we went in, there was no air conditioning.

RELATED: Some restaurants may be adding a COVID surcharge to your bill

Immer said she's not sure how to feel about the surcharges, but she will shop around to see if she can find a better price.

"It's something that we're going to be seeing a lot of that we probably did not expect," Immer said. "It kind of makes sense on the one hand, but on the other hand, there's a lot of people that are unemployed right now and can barely afford vet bills as it is."

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

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