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  • Rebecca Hellmann

Consumer Payment Choice Coalition Says U.S. Currency Poses No Greater Risks Than Cards or Phones

Updated: May 4


Washington, DC; April 30, 2020 – Businesses that refuse to accept cash as a way to lower coronavirus transmission risks are acting contrary to the best available scientific evidence, according to a statement released today by the Consumer Choice in Payment Coalition (CCPC).

The CCPC brings together a diverse group of leading consumer and business organizations with a strong shared interest in ensuring that all consumers retain the freedom and right to pay with cash at retail establishments throughout the country. The dissemination of reliable information to consumers regarding public safety in using cash is an essential component of this new group’s mission.

The CCPC believes, based on the best available scientific literature, that handling U.S. currency carries little risk of contracting coronavirus infections, so long as proper procedures are followed – the same precautions that are recommended in handling plastic cards or mobile phones

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and concerns over the spread of COVID-19, there has been a myriad of misinformation about the possibility of spreading the virus by simply handling currency. Unfortunately, some of this hyperbole about cash safety is little more than a transparent effort by those having vested interests in promoting a migration away from cash to electronic payment methods, which in turn would exclude millions in our population from retail markets.

The CCPC recommends and endorses adherence to common-sense precautions by consumers and merchants when handling coins and currency – or a card or mobile phone. But at the same time, we believe it is important for the public to be fully and accurately informed, and not misled by unfounded fears surrounding the use of cash versus other payment methods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), on its website, says “There is currently no evidence to confirm or disprove that COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through coins or banknotes. However, respiratory droplets expelled from an infected person can contaminate and persist on surfaces. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly after touching any frequently-touched surface or object, including coins or banknotes. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, if your hands are not cleaned.”

As reported in March by NBC News, “It’s important to note there hasn’t been a documented case of a person getting infected from a surface contaminated with the new coronavirus, according to the CDC. Transmission usually happens when people come in direct contact with respiratory droplets produced when a nearby infected person coughs or sneezes.”

U.S. currency is made of a porous material that is a unique blend of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, according to the Department of the Treasury website. When a team of six microbiologists from the University of Arizona and Michigan State University conducted a study in 2013 to measure “transfer efficiency,” indicating the likelihood that bacteria and viruses could be transmitted from a variety of surfaces, both porous and nonporous, to the hands of people who had touched those services, U.S. currency was selected as one of three porous surfaces (along with six nonporous surfaces, such as metal, glass, and ceramic tile) that were considered.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found that U.S. currency, a porous surface, had the lowest average transfer efficiency of any of the surfaces considered – ranging from 0.05 percent to 0.2 percent – while that efficiency was measured at average levels as high as 79.5 percent among the nonporous surfaces.

As organizations that are deeply involved in ensuring and monitoring the delivery and utilization of cash every day across the USA, we wholeheartedly support the observance of good hygiene practices with respect to cash handling by both consumers and merchants. Protecting and maintaining public health is and must be the highest priority for us all.

Ensuring the continued availability of the option to pay with cash is also of crucial importance to our constituencies, including the hundreds of millions of Americans we serve who depend upon using U.S. currency each day. We are not aware of any reliable scientific evidence indicating that practicing good hygiene, or safeguarding the public’s health, requires consumers and businesses to give up the convenience, security, or privacy protections that cash transactions continue to offer.

We want America to know that our organizations remain committed to ensuring safe, convenient, and widespread access to cash during the current health crisis – now and in the coming days, as our nation’s consumer-spending-based economy regains its footing and becomes robust once again.

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