New Yorkers will become the first Americans to try out a new digital pass that shows their vaccination status and COVID-19 test results. It's an effort to help venues open up to larger groups, says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo announced Friday that the state's health status certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will help New Yorkers voluntarily share vaccination and COVID-19 negative statuses with entertainment venues and other businesses to put the state's economy back on track.
The state describes the pass this way:
Businesses and venues can scan and validate your pass to ensure you meet any COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements for entry. Along with your Pass, you'll be asked to show a photo ID that shows your name and birth date to verify that the Pass belongs to you. Adults may hold passes for accompanying minors.
Once you and your party enter an establishment, you will still be asked to follow State and CDC guidance regarding social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene.
Participation in Excelsior Pass is voluntary. New Yorkers can always show alternate proof of vaccination or testing, like another mobile application or paper form, directly at a business or venue.
"It's time to turn the page," Cuomo said, crediting vaccination efforts and lowered infection rates as an indication that the state is ready for a tool to help jumpstart the state's entertainment-driven economy.
The pass could see New York's Broadway theaters, concert venues and sports arenas fill seats again after closures that started in March of 2020.
President Biden's 200-page strategy for confronting the global coronavirus pandemic asked government agencies to "assess the feasibility" of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents, and producing digital versions of them. Airlines and technology companies have been working on developing technology to do so, but New York's is the first pass being made widely available to residents.
The idea is similar to mobile airline boarding passes: they can be printed or stored on smartphones, and participating businesses and venues can use a companion app to confirm patrons' health status.
Madison Square Garden in New York City has been part of the program's pilot phase. Both it and the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y, will begin using the passes by early April. Other businesses and venues will follow soon, according to the state.
IBM General Manager Steve LaFleche, whose company helped develop the new tool, called it "flexible and accessible," claiming technologies like blockchain and encryption make the pass secure. However, blockchain encryption has been hackable in the past.
The Wall Street Journal notes "some health authorities are worried that vaccine passports could give people a false sense of security." For example, rather than boost the economy and encourage vaccination, efforts like the Excelsior Pass could wind up further spread of variants. It's also still not clear that vaccinated people cannot spread the virus to people who have not been vaccinated.
Another concern is fraud. Some worry that the passes might encourage fraud and increase the spread of the virus by people who claim to be vaccinated or COVID-19 negative but aren't. According to Open Access Government, "the key to the success of the vaccine passport is trust. Trust that the credentials within it are 100% genuine, and trust that the passport itself is beyond suspicion of fraudulent activity."
New Yorkers will have a better sense of that next week.