Amidst concerns over the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, at least one national grocery chain has begun limiting the use of cash in some stores.
Last Friday, reports began to surface on social media of Whole Foods stores restricting or even eliminating cash payments. One Twitter user posted a sign that appeared at one of the Amazon-owned grocers’ locations:
The grocers’ move comes as health experts cited by CBS warn that the disease can be transmitted on paper money, and as the Federal Reserve has decided to delay the processing of dollars repatriated from Asia.
“Starting on April 20, some Whole Foods Market regions began designating “cash accepted” and “no cash accepted” lanes as an added safety measure and to make the checkout process easier for customers,” according to a Whole Foods spokesperson. The company added: “We accept cash in all of our stores and have made no changes to our cash policies. Some stores have designated certain lanes as credit and debit EBT only, as an added safety precaution and to streamline the checkout process. The image of signage stating ‘no cash accepted’ was taken from a single register lane and is not reflective of any greater store policy. As always, any customer who wishes to pay with cash in our stores can easily do so.”
Reports from customers, however, suggest the changes may be more extensive. Attorney Daniel Nazer told Fortune that cashiers at a Whole Foods on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco told shoppers last week that stores would not accept cash at all beginning on Monday.
In an earlier tweet, Nazer also pointed out that a ban on cash could hurt those without bank accounts.
According to the FDIC, 6.5% of Americans don’t have bank accounts while 18.7% are “underbanked,” meaning they rely on financial services outside the traditional bank systems.
Concern for these consumers as well as seniors and others who often rely on cash has led a growing number of cities—including Philadelphia and San Francisco—to pass laws in the last two years that forbid most merchants from going cashless. Meanwhile, a law in Massachusetts has long required merchants across the state to accept cash.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Mayor’s Office didn’t immediately return a request for comment about the recent developments at Whole Foods.
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April 27: The first line of this story has been updated to reflect that Whole Foods is limiting the use cash in some stores.
April 28: This story has been updated with a longer statement from Whole Foods.