OTTAWA -- As more businesses begin to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, many shops are refusing to accept cash.

Instead, shoppers are asked to make contactless payments amid concerns over spreading COVID-19 in the stores and through the money.

On a hot summer day, nothing beats the heat better than ice cream and the Dairy Queen on Merivale Road is just the spot for Brielle and her dad Gaetan Gagné to buy a cool treat. However, not with cash, it is not currently accepted. 

Gagné says he is okay with it, the more hands you keep off things the better. 

And that's why Dairy Queen owner Darlene Emmerson decided to keep the cash out of her registers, only using contactless payment methods like debit, credit and mobile tap, to protect staff and customers, hoping to limit exposure to viruses. 

"We just decided it's a much safer thing," Emmerson says. "There is no exchange between my employees and the customer whatsoever except for that pin pad going out and every time it's brought back into the building it is immediately disinfected."

She is not alone, many businesses, like Indigo, are turning cash away choosing instead digital payments. 

Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and bestselling author, says moving money back and forth can pass along a virus. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, then exchange that money, you are also exchanging germs. 

"You would be surprised how germy money can be," Tetro says, explaining that although debit cards can be covered in germs as well, the cards are not being touched by others.

"Even if it's germier or if it's covered in your germs it doesn't matter because the only person that's going to come in contact with them is you and if you're tapping that's actually decreasing the risk for spread."

Germs aside, fewer bills are finding their way into peoples wallets, as digital transactions have been on the rise for years. 

A study conducted by Payments Canada revealed that during the pandemic, there has been a steep decline of cash transactions. The finding show:

  • 62 per cent of Canadians are using less cash
  • 53 per cent reported using card or mobile tap payment for in-store purchases more often 
  • 42 per cent avoid shopping at places that do not accept contactless payments.

Karl Littler, senior vice president of public affairs with the Retail Council of Canada says, while overall cash use is down, they're still encouraging retailers to continue offering the option, especially when it comes to the essentials. 

"In the current context obviously a lot of the concern is public health related," adding, "it's pretty important that people who are often economically vulnerable who may only have access to cash continue to buy the things that they need but in the end it's obviously up to the discretion of the merchant."

The decision for retailers to stop taking cash prompted the Bank of Canada to weigh in, urging businesses to use bills and coins. The central bank said cash poses no greater risk than touching a doorknob or handrail, and if you handle cash follow public health guidelines for COVID-19. The bank adds that if you choose to take extra precautions, the polymer bills can be cleaned with soap and water. 

However many retailers just don't want to take the chance. For Emerson she says her customers have told her, they don't mind the decision. 

"I'm not going cashless forever this is just during this horrible pandemic that we're going through."