Coronavirus and cashflow: As businesses reopen, is cash or card better for your health?

Epidemiologist weighs in on which is safer

A person holding cash.
A person holding cash.

ORLANDO, Fla. – As Florida’s economy is slowly brought back to life under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reopening guidelines, businesses across the state are opening their doors to guests once again.

So maybe your stimulus check is burning a hole in your pocket, or maybe you’re a small business owner ready to get the cashflow going once again, but the big question will be: cash or card, and which payment method is better for your health?

From the time COVID-19 was first detected in Florida on March 1, there have been debates about how long the virus can linger on surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said current evidence suggests that COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials and that the cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice to prevent the spread of the disease.

[TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

Cash is notoriously dirty, passing from person to person, and is known to harbor a wide range of pathogens. According to the Scientific American, everything from fecal matter to mold has been found on the surface of paper and coin currency, not to mention coronavirus.

Charles Letizia, an epidemiologist working with the Florida Department of Health, said that as far as cleanliness goes, cash and credit both pose risks to your health.

“In terms of transmission risk, handling cash or a credit card is similar to touching any other surface such as doorknob or counter top,” Letizia said. “It is key to remember that the virus has to make it from the surface to your nose, mouth, or eyes. That is why hand hygiene is so important.”

So what’s germier: a credit card or cold, hard cash?

“The time the virus can remain viable on surfaces ranges from hours to days, depending on the type of surface and other environmental factors. The virus tends to last longer on nonporous surfaces such as plastic, but these nonporous surfaces are easier to disinfect,” Letizia said.

When it comes right down to it though, you can continue to use your preferred method of payment at your favorite stores and restaurants under one condition: you head for the soap and water after the transaction is complete.

“The best way to minimize your risk is to wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. Contactless mobile payments are a good option to consider if you want to minimize touching objects that have been handled by others,” Letizia said.

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