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Handling Money and Credit Cards: Is Hand Sanitizer Enough?

March 27th, 2020

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Yes, money is covered in germs. No, coronavirus isn’t making it worse.

Amid the reports of COVID-19 about symptoms, statistics, protective gear shortages, school closures and more, you may hear an occasional tidbit or two about the safety of handling money or credit cards. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have not made any decisive statements about the longevity of the novel coronavirus on money or credit cards. The WHO does share these guidelines stating, 

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

The WHO also recommends if you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a disinfectant to kill the virus and to protect yourself and others. We know that money, credit cards, cell phones, keys, doorknobs, and other frequently used items have bacteria and other germs on the surfaces. 

According to the Federal Reserve, the average lifespan of the US $1 note is 6.6 years. Alternatively, the United States Mint says the life expectancy of a circulating coin is 30 years, while paper money usually only lasts for 18 months. Whichever statistic you want to use, money is circulating with germs and bacteria. Research indicates that credit cards may be just as contaminated as cash. What about cell phones? Your phone is covered in germs: 25,127 bacteria per square inch. This makes cell phones one of the dirtiest objects we come in contact with every day. However, coronavirus is not likely to make money dirtier than usual. Germs are everywhere, which we know, so the best practice is to be diligent in cleaning and sanitizing. 

For merchants, you should ramp up your cleaning and disinfecting efforts and include surfaces involved with payment processing. You should disinfect POS terminals, cash registers, signing pens, counters, and any other surface that customers and employees use. Also, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer by your check out area and ask employees and customers to use the product. This simple act is powerful and we should be doing it routinely. The extra effort at this time will help stop the spread and flatten the curve. 

If you are able, you can encourage your customers to order and pay online and offer curbside pickup or pay for shipping. The CDC is continually updating the guidelines for businesses and employers to help prevent spreading the virus. Check often on the website for the latest updates. Communicate to your employees, customers, suppliers, and the public your updating cleaning protocol. As well as any changes to business hours, additional delivery or pick up times, and how you are operating your business within the government guidelines should be communicated.

Do you offer alternative payment options? Consider offering PayPal, Venmo, ApplePay, Zelle, or other services for your customers to pay. While this may seem like a temporary solution, you could find that in the future more customers prefer these types of payment options and it could expand your business to new market segments. 

For employees, you can be more proactive in cleaning your surface areas as well. You may be working at an office, from home, at a brick and mortar store, or doing deliveries. Many businesses still remain open to the public. Do your part in stepping up disinfecting and washing. More than just hand washing and coughing and sneezing in your elbow, you can social distance yourself from others. Is it possible to install a “sneeze guard” at your cash register area? Or can you eliminate paper signatures and do digital signatures? If signing for delivery, you can wash your hands immediately after touching the digital signing machine or clipboard. All of these small measures add up to a big step for prevention. 

For everyone, take time to think about how germs spread. Social distancing remains on the most important things everyone can do to limit exposure to COVID-19. If you must come in contact with other people, please use all precautionary measures.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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