New York

New York's Excelsior Pass Is Now Online. What Is it and How Does it Work?

New York hopes to use the COVID "passport" to fast-track the reopening of stadiums, theaters and businesses in accordance with state health guidelines

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What to Know

  • New York launched a first-of-its-kind "COVID passport" for use at major sports and entertainment venues; the secure technology confirms an individual's vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test
  • The Excelsior Pass program could lead to faster reopenings of stadiums, theaters and businesses in accordance with state health guidelines
  • Like a mobile airline boarding pass, people can print them out or store it in their phone's Wallet apps; each pass has a secure QR code that venues scan using a companion app to confirm health status

A new, first-of-its-kind digital passport has launched in New York's ongoing effort to fast-track the reopening of businesses and major sports and entertainment venues across the state.

The online program is designed to securely display New Yorkers' COVID-related information and help authenticate a person's vaccination or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. The Excelsior Pass, the so-called "vaccine passport," officially launched Friday after several pilot programs and beta testing.

Similar to a mobile airline boarding pass, people can print out their Excelsior Pass or store it on their phones using the Excelsior Pass's "Wallet App." Each pass will have a secure QR code, which venues or businesses scan using a companion app to confirm someone's COVID health status. 

According to the state, robust privacy protections are woven throughout the digital health pass solution, giving people a trusted way to maintain control of their personal information using an encrypted digital phone wallet or printed credential. People can decide for themselves if they want to use it -- it's a voluntary program -- and if they do, they can elect which passes to use for which purposes without sharing their underlying personal data. User data is kept confidential. The QR code only informs the venue if a pass is valid or invalid.

"As we begin reopening the valves on different sectors of our economy, we are putting guidelines in place to ensure individuals attending events involving larger gatherings have tested negative for COVID or have been vaccinated to avoid an outbreak of the virus," the governor has said. "The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way, allowing us to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal."

The Excelsior Pass Wallet app (for individual New Yorkers) can be downloaded for Android here and for iOS here. The Excelsior Pass Scanner app (for interested businesses) can be downloaded for Android here and for iOS here.

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Cuomo made COVID testing a requirement for fans to attend events at large venues when he approved those for limited reopening last month, and he says the new technology, developed in partnership with IBM, will fast-track the reopening of theaters, stadiums and other businesses at a more accelerated pace.

Large venues like Madison Square Garden and the Times Union Center will begin using the program in the coming weeks, according to the state. The pass will expand to smaller event and entertainment venues beginning April 2.

The governor says the Excelsior Pass worked well when the state tried it out during the initial pilot phase during the Nets game at Barclays at the end of February. It was tested a second time during a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

Other COVID rules and restrictions apply to the reopening of large venues aside from the testing component. Certain rules and restrictions apply to start, Cuomo said. Only arenas with more than 10,000-person total capacity can reopen at this point; a strict 10 percent capacity limit applies. Venues must submit plans to the State Department of Health for approval. Core mitigation efforts like masks, assigned seating for social distancing and temperature checks are mandatory.

Cuomo has said for months that testing is the key to reopening entertainment and sports venues, offices and more before vaccination reaches critical mass. He says New York can't stay shut down for the many more months it could take to hit that number. The low threshold for herd immunity, he says, is 75 percent.

As of Saturday, more than 8.5 million people in New York state have had at least one dose, about 28.7 percent of the population. Nearly 3.1 million people have been fully vaccinated. That's slightly more than 15.8 percent of the state's population.

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