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BYU study says ‘going cashless was useless’ during height of pandemic

May 13, 2022, 12:23 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 12:40 pm
BYU study COVID money...
FILE: 3 out of 5 money lenders face negative consequences. (Stock image, Canva)
(Stock image, Canva)

SALT LAKE CITY — During the height of the pandemic, many businesses stopped accepting cash in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. And a new BYU study published by PLOS ONE, found that the effort likely didn’t do anything.

The researchers noted neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization discouraged using paper money during the pandemic. Instead, each suggested washing hands after handling money.

“Early in the pandemic, we had this massive outcry for businesses to stop using cash; all these businesses just followed this advice and said ‘okay we are credit card only,’” said study author Richard Robison, a BYU professor of microbiology and molecular biology.

The move by businesses led Robinson to wonder if there was any data to back up the move to plastic. He said he found none.

“We decided to see if it was rational or not, and turns out it was not,” said Robinson. 

Putting cash to the test

The research team was comprised of BYU professor Julianne Grose and a small group of undergraduate students.  The team exposed $1 bills, quarters, pennies, and credit cards to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Then, the researchers sampled and tested for virus detection. This occurred at four separate time points: 30 minutes, 4 hours, 24 hours, and 48 hours after the money was exposed to the virus.  They found that after 30 minutes, the amount of virus on the dollar bill decreased by over 99.9%. After 24 hours, the virus was undetectable.

On credit cards, however, the SARS-CoV-2 virus stuck around a bit longer.  At the 30-minute mark, the researchers noted the amount of viruses on the cards had decreased by 90 percent. After 48 hours, however, the virus was still detectable.

The coins reacted similarly to the cards. A strong initial reduction in detection of the virus was noted, however, the change tested positive for the live virus after 24 and 48 hours.

The results surprised the research team. 

“This pandemic has been infamous for people making decisions with no data,” said Robinson. “We have these people just saying things and massive numbers of organizations just follow it blindly without any data. It turns out in this case, they went precisely the wrong direction.”

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BYU study says ‘going cashless was useless’ during height of pandemic