“There are many individuals who, for a variety of reasons, do not have access to credit or debit cards and must pay with coins and bills,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and scientist with the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, in the bank's press release.
Cash has a bad reputation, as coins and bills pass through many hands over their lifespan. But handling cash poses no greater risk than touching other common surfaces, like doorknobs and handrails, the bank says. And if your credit or debit card doesn't allow you to tap to pay, you face similar risk when touching the pinpad.
You can minimize risk
Dr. Bogoch says stores can take reasonable steps to keep their employees safe while ensuring people can pay for the goods and services they need.
“Risk can be mitigated in retail settings using a variety of methods, including ensuring access to hand hygiene for all employees,” he says.
When you go shopping, avoid touching your face and be sure to wash your hands as soon as possible. If you want to be on the safe side, you can even wash polymer bank notes with soap and water when you get home.
The Bank of Canada warns not to do the same with old paper notes, which don't resist moisture. Disinfectant wipes or products containing bleach or ethanol can also damage banknotes.
No reported cases
Despite the common fears, there have been no confirmed cases of someone catching COVID-19 by touching hard currency, according to the Bank of International Settlements, an institution that serves central banks around the world.
"The fact that the virus survives best on non-porous materials, such as plastic or stainless steel, means that debit or credit card terminals or PIN pads could transmit the virus too,” the Switzerland-based bank added in an early April report.
Keep in mind that, even though the Bank of Canada has asked stores to accept coins and bills, it can't force anyone to accept any form of payment. Stores can still refuse to take your cash.
If your local grocer won't take your money — or you’re still feeling antsy about using cash yourself — you may want to consider getting a debit card that allows unlimited transactions. Scotiabank, for example, is currently offering a $350 welcome bonus for their Ultimate and Preferred accounts, and you can even use the debit card to shop online from the comfort of home.