New York launches digital COVID-19 vaccination pass as part of reopening effort

March 29, 2021

Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office

New York on Friday became the first state to officially launch a digital passport for the coronavirus, which involves a smartphone app that shows proof of an individual’s vaccination or recent negative test. Developed in partnership with IBM, the “Excelsior Pass” is designed like a mobile airline boarding pass and is part of the state’s plan to reopen businesses, entertainment venues, and wedding reception halls. Following a pilot program tested at a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclays Center and at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, the app will expand to smaller arts and culture venues and theaters on April 2, the same day live performances can return to New York.

The free app provides users with a digital pass that has a secure QR code, which can be stored digitally on a smartphone or printed from the Excelsior Pass website and brought to the venue. Businesses and arenas will be able to scan and validate passes via a mobile device or tablet to ensure attendees meet vaccination and testing requirements.

There are currently three types of passes: A vaccination pass (valid for 30 days after the pass is retrieved and then a new one is needed), a PCR test pass (valid until 12 a.m. on the third day after a test), and an Antigen test pass (valid for six hours from the time of a test).

According to the state, no private health data is stored or tracked within the app with “multiple security systems” in place. Those attending in-person events do not need to use the Excelsior Pass, but an alternate proof of vaccination or testing will still be required for entry.

“The question of ‘public health or the economy’ has always been a false choice — the answer must be both,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. “As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening.”

The official launch comes just days before Major League Baseball’s 2021 season kicks off. Earlier this month, Cuomo said professional sports leagues with large outdoor stadiums can reopen at 20 percent capacity starting April 1, which means 10,850 fans at Yankee Stadium and 8,384 fans at Citi Field.

Sports venues and arenas were first allowed to reopen on February 23, operating at a 10 percent capacity limit at places that can hold 10,000 people or more. Regional sports venues that hold 1,500 or more people indoors or 2,500 or more people outdoors can reopen with capacity limited to 10 percent indoors and 20 percent outdoors.

The state’s health department said it will re-evaluate the entry requirements for sports venues in May and capacity limits could be increased if case numbers and hospitalizations drop. And starting April 2, indoor entertainment venues can reopen at 33 percent capacity or up to 100 people. If proof of a negative coronavirus test or vaccination is presented prior to entry, capacity can increase to 150 people.


Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on March 2, 2021, and has been updated with new information.

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