Scientists have confirmed that SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, is almost immediately nonviable if deposited on a cash banknote, but it may be more stable on plastic money cards like credit or debit cards.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many businesses stopped accepting cash payments in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. While neither the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the World Health Organization ever banned the use of paper money, many businesses still only accept payment by card more than two years later.
It turns out that this decision, though well-intentioned, was misguided.
The study showed that the Covid virus is not capable of growing on a cash banknote. But, the virus actually shows greater stability on plastic money cards, with the live virus still being detected 48 hours after initial deposition, said the team at Brigham Young University in the US.
“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.
The study published in PLOS ONE concluded that the use of credit and debit cards over cash as a Covid-19 prevention measure is not advisable.
For the study, the team analysed a bunch of $1 bills, quarters, pennies and credit cards and inoculated the money with SARS-CoV-2. The cash, coins and cards were then sampled and tested for virus detection at four time points afterwards: at 30 minutes, four hours, 24 hours and 48 hours.
SARS-CoV-2 was difficult to detect on the dollar bills even just 30 minutes after being placed there. The team found the virus was reduced by 99.9993 per cent at the 30 minute mark. They tested again after 24 and 48 hours and found no live virus on the banknotes.
In contrast, the virus only reduced 90 per cent on money cards at the 30-minute mark. While this reduction rate increased to 99.6 per cent by four hours, and 99.96 per cent by 24 hours, the live virus was still detectable on the money cards 48 hours later.
The coins performed similarly to the plastic cards, with a strong initial reduction in virus presence, yet still testing positive for the live virus after 24 and 48 hours.