UTAH (ABC4) – At the height of the pandemic, there were concerns over where the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus could survive and be transmissible.
Since little was known about the virus in 2020, health officials strongly suggested disinfecting germy surfaces including shoes, groceries and shopping carts along with discouraging the use of paper money and coins.
Officials were concerned about the exchange of money as a potential virus spreader, but new research from Brigham Young University (BYU) finds the avoidance of coins and paper bills to evade the COVID-19 virus was unnecessary.
“Early in the pandemic, we had this massive outcry for businesses to stop using cash; all these businesses just followed this advice and said OK we are credit card only,” said study author Richard Robison, a BYU professor of microbiology and molecular biology. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, where are the data to support that?’ And there simply wasn’t any. We decided to see if it was rational or not, and turns out it was not.”
The study was led by a research team comprised of BYU professor Julianne Grose and a group of BYU undergrads. The study’s findings were published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Researchers gathered a collection of $1 bills, quarters, pennies and credit cards while infecting the items with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. All cash, coins and credit cards were sampled and tested for the virus at four different time points — 30 minutes, four hours, 24 hours and 48 hours.
Here’s what the team found:
- The COVID virus was “difficult to detect on paper dollar bills after only 30 minutes of inoculation, reduced by 99.9993% from its initial inoculation.”
- When the bills were tested again at the 24 and 48-hour marks, no live virus was detected on the banknotes.
- Credit cards fared worse though — After 30 minutes, the virus was reduced by 90%. It was further weakened by 99.6% after four hours and 99.96% after 24 hours. By the 48-hour mark though, the live virus was still detectable on the card’s surface.
- Researchers found that coins performed roughly the same as cards, the virus initially weakening quickly within 30 minutes, but still staying active after 24-48 hours.
- In comparison, paper banknotes showed no signs of the live virus after 24 hours from inoculation by one million viable virus particles.
- The team of scientists administered the same viral tests on bills and coins gathered from local businesses around the BYU campus.
- Within an hour of obtaining the cash, the team swabbed the money’s surfaces and found no active virus of SARS-CoV-2 RNA could be found. They discovered a small amount of the live virus on money cards, though.
“The study authors conclude that the use of credit and debit cards over cash as a COVID-19 prevention measure is not advisable,” the report concludes.
To check out the BYU team’s full report findings, click here.