Yes, the virus can survive on money in several ways

Yesterday we discussed the issue of strip clubs being unable to reopen in New York and the difficulties inherent in operating such a business while observing social distancing protocols. That produced some “interesting” feedback in my inbox to say the least, but several questions arose over the idea that cash transactions (such as tipping dancers) could potentially transmit the novel coronavirus. Since I wrote that without really doing a deep dive on the subject, I decided to check around and see if there was any data on this specific question.

As it happens, the Associated Press published a report on the same day addressing the subject. It turns out that the risk of transmission of the virus on paper currency is definitely lower than person-to-person contact, but it’s still probably possible. We need to specify “probably” here because nobody has actually thought to do a test to confirm it yet.

Can the coronavirus survive on paper currency?

Yes, but experts say the risk of getting the virus from cash is low compared with person-to-person spread, which is the main way people get infected.

Still, many businesses worldwide have banned cash transactions and governments are taking extra precautions.

When it’s an option, use touch-free payment methods, such as purchasing goods over the phone or online, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you must use cash or a debit card, the agency recommends using hand sanitizer immediately after paying.

The closest thing we have to solid data on this question is a different test showing that the virus could survive on cardboard for at least 24 hours. And that test was done fairly early on in the pandemic before this garbage virus started mutating like something out of a Steven King novel.

Opting for a credit card instead of cash isn’t much better unless you’re swiping the card yourself. A separate test found that the virus was still viable on smooth plastic surfaces for up to three days. The only truly safe payment methods appear to be via your phone or other devices completing the transaction online.

But that brings us back to the issue of how you tip people. This would be of particular concern in the case of the aforementioned exotic dancers, but it really could apply to any sort of transaction where tipping is a common courtesy. In most stores these days you will find a scanner for your credit card where you complete your transaction and it might have an option for tipping that way. In the case of car services such as Uber and Lyft, their app includes a tipping option at the end of every ride.

But that doesn’t cover every situation. Strip clubs don’t tend to have credit card readers set up around the stage and they would be rather expensive to install and maintain. And the dancers don’t tend to carry mobile readers around with them. (Not to mention not having anyplace to hold them by the end of the dance.) Delivery people who bring your orders to your door probably don’t have a way to conduct a credit card transaction. Up until now, my wife and I have been taping cash to our front door along with a thank you note for delivery drivers when they leave things on our porch, but now I’m starting to wonder if even that is a good idea. I suppose if they are wearing gloves and/or washing their hands thoroughly after handling cash it should be okay.

So is this question the beginning of yet another way that the novel coronavirus is changing America permanently? This could be pushing us further and further toward a cashless society, something I’ve long resisted since the idea was first proposed. But perhaps there’s just no way around it.