Are you being charged a hidden coronavirus fee? This is what to look for

We'll explain the types of charges that are most common, and what you should know.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
3 min read

Some businesses are adding surcharges for patrons as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

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We discovered last year that consumers were being charged small extra fees by businesses such as hair salons and restaurants to cover the costs of PPE and sanitizing due to the coronavirus. Now a new hidden fee has been found by senior living residents, who are noticing a surcharge of around $1,200 to cover extra food costs and cleaning, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Many of these businesses may be attempting to recover from the financial losses of coronavirus closures by adding an extra charge to your bill. It's being called the "COVID fee." The customer, however, is typically unaware of these charges until after they receive their bill.

Here's what you need to know about COVID-19 fees at salons, restaurants, medical facilities and other businesses.

What is a COVID-19 fee and why am I seeing it on my bill?

There have been reports of some businesses and medical facilities adding surcharges to customer bills and raising the prices on certain products, which raises the overall bill. You might see it as a new line item for a COVID fee.

Why is this happening? Operating costs might be higher for businesses now. For example, business owners may need to cover the cost of employee face masks or provide customers with their own face masks as a condition of entering, as they're mandatory across the country. The cost of regularly sanitizing surfaces that are touched often could also be passed along to you. 

The extra charge might also conceivably be used as a form of hazard pay to entice employees who are worried about prolonged exposure at their jobs, or a way for business owners to recoup some of the costs of closure for months on end, as they deal with reduced capacity in the name of safety or local laws.


The surcharge can help businesses pay for PPE.

Angela Lang/CNET

How do I find out if there's a 'coronavirus fee'?

If you're concerned about paying more for services than usual due to a tighter budget as a result of the coronavirus, we recommend that you call ahead and ask the businesses you're planning to visit if they charge an extra fee to cover any COVID-19 charges. 

You can also ask for an itemized bill to see what the charges include, such as face masks for customers and sanitation supplies. After all, if the salon, dentist or restaurant you're going to is charging you a fee, it's important that it be transparent about what you're paying for.

Watch this: How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine? Your questions answered

Where you could be charged extra money to cover coronavirus-related costs

Salons: Many salons have added extra charges to customers' bills to help expense sanitary precautions. Some salons have added a sanitation station so that customers can wash their hands before being seated. One salon in Kentucky is selling disposable face masks to those who don't have one, for $5.

Restaurants: Due to closing their doors for several months, and now only having limited capacity, many restaurants are still recovering. Also, many need help covering the costs of PPE for their employees, as well as additional cleaning they must do in order to keep the restaurant sanitized.

Senior living facilities: Some residents have noticed a COVID-19 fee on their bills that wasn't there before. That's to cover the cost of extra cleaning, masks and food due to the pandemic.

Dentist offices: Knowing that the coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, dentists are in one of the highest-risk groups of professionals. While dentists have always worn PPE, some have switched to N95 masks for better protection, which are more costly than the average face mask. Plus the cost of PPE for dentists has risen exponentially.

Can I avoid paying the fees?

Depending on what the fee is for, you may be able to avoid paying it. For example, if salons are providing face masks but charging customers for the convenience, you can bring your own to avoid the fee. In some cases, however, you may not be able to avoid the fee.

It's uncertain how long companies will be adding fees to bills to cover additional costs, and how widespread the practice may become. For more information, here's a medical charge you may encounter if you get the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, here's everything else you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine.