Some government agencies seem concerned that all of that circulating paper might be a potential vector. In early February, when COVID-19 was still just “the coronavirus” — and, for most Americans, still someone else’s problem — China’s central bank announced that it would quarantine the country’s cash, to prevent the disease from spreading from one person to another on money. The government collected bank notes from Hubei, the worst-hit province, and then sanitized the stacks of bills, either by baking them at a high temperature or bathing them in ultraviolet rays. The newly laundered cash was then kept in isolation for seven to 14 days before being rereleased into the banking system.
A few weeks later, the U.S. Federal Reserve began quarantining dollar bills repatriated from Asia, holding them for seven to 10 days before allowing them to re-enter the domestic financial system. Bank notes are made of cotton pulp, not wood fiber, but still: Why sanitize money and not mail?
Representatives of the big three package deliverers in the United States — U.P.S., FedEx and the Postal Service — insisted there is no need. “The C.D.C. has advised that there is a low risk of transmission on packages,” said Matthew O’Conner, a spokesman for U.P.S. FedEx, in a statement, said. “The guidance from the W.H.O. is that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”