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New York expands COVID-19 vaccine pass program

New York's digital pass allows people to download an app to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Updated: October 5, 2021 - 10:59pm

New York is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination pass program to allow residents who've been vaccinated in other states to prove they've gotten their shots or tested negative for the virus.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that New York state's Excelsior Pass Scanner app – which allows businesses to verify a person's COVID-19 vaccination – has been updated to enable the validation of SMART Health Cards from out-of-staters.

Hochul said the changes are based on federal and state COVID-19 guidance and will help more New York businesses stay afloat with the winter months approaching.

"New York was hit hard by COVID-19, and we have led bold efforts to pursue innovative solutions to reinvigorate economies," she said in a statement. "We're expanding this solution even further with a set of standards that can be used and validated by all businesses for free, nationwide, based on shared policies and commitments New Yorkers trust."

The move will allow New York businesses participating in the Excelsior Pass program to verify vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests for people from states that issue SMART Health Cards, including California, Hawaii, Louisiana and Virginia. Washington state is in the process of setting up its SMART card system.

New York's digital pass, which was unveiled by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March, allows people to download an app to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

The vaccine verification app works similar to a mobile airline boarding pass and uses a secure code that can be stored in a smartphone or printed out for scanning. The system was developed in collaboration with the Vaccine Credential Initiative – a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations including the Mayo Clinic and Microsoft.

Dr. Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician for MITRE and co-leader of the coalition, said the agreement between New York and other states is a model for a national collaboration.

"We are excited about New York's collaboration and leadership in developing an easy-to-use tool for validating proof of vaccination as we enter into fall and anticipate an increase in indoor activity," he said.

New York officials say the Excelsior Pass technology doesn’t store or track a person's private health data, and can be only used to verify that an individual has been vaccinated.

The pass is accepted at major sporting venues like Madison Square Garden and for shows on Broadway, one of the latest entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests.

To date, more than 5.6 million Excelsior Passes and 800,000 Excelsior Passes Plus have been issued since New York state launched the first-in-the-nation system, officials said.

Nationally, the use of so-called "vaccine passports" has become the latest flashpoint in the battle over COVID-19 precautions, with Republicans criticizing the practice as government overreach.

At least 18 states led by Republican governors or with GOP-controlled Legislatures prohibit the use of vaccine passports or ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination.

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