COVID-19 has substantially altered our country’s economic and social landscape, including how we purchase goods. Part of this change is a fear that the virus can be transmitted by currency. Amidst the spread of misinformation suggesting coins are a greater transmitter of viruses and bacteria than other surfaces, consider the mighty penny and its properties.
The Benefits of the Penny and Copper. Copper is antimicrobial. It kills bacteria and viruses. History has shown the metal’s usefulness during other pandemics.
Shayla Love, a writer for Vice, recently reported that in the early 19th century, exposure to copper would have served as an early version of constantly sanitizing one’s hands. Love cites the work of French physician, Victor Burq, who found in 1852 that people who work with copper or the copper industry during multiple Cholera outbreaks had better survival numbers. This survival rate was higher despite the fact that these workers lived in comparatively worse sanitary conditions.
Burq found that, in 1865, 3.7 out of every 1,000 people died of Cholera in Paris. Meanwhile, the rate was .5 out of a 1,000 people in the copper industry. Based on his research, Burq later wrote, “Copper or its alloys, brass and bronze, applied literally…to the skin in the Cholera epidemic are effective means of prevention which should not be neglected.” For the full Vice story, “Copper Destroys Viruses and Bacteria: Why Isn’t It Everywhere” go to, please visit: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xgqkyw/copper-destroys-viruses-and-bacteria-why-isnt-it-everywhere
Copper is not a COVID-19 cure-all and the topic deserves more research, but past research has shown promise. For example, one study from 1983 showed hospital knobs made of brass (a copper alloy) had almost no E. Coli growth, compared to stainless steel. These findings have implications for contamination susceptibility in public transit, restaurants, health care facilities and other public venues.
A Shift to Cashless Payments Is not the Answer. A consumer shift to cashless transactions poses a significant risk to our national economy and the lower-income and vulnerable “unbanked” segment of our population. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that banknotes and coins have no more chance of transmitting COVID-19 than many other surfaces one encounters. See: https://www.mintindustry.com/information-hub/covid-19-and-using-coins/
In sum, our fears resulting from this pandemic should not cause us to overlook the benefits of copper and the mighty penny. Consumers should have the option to continue using cash, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.