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New York becomes the first state to offer a COVID-19 digital pass

This undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, shows the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.Associated Press

New York state launched a new digital app to allow individuals to prove they have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or have recently tested negative, as part of an effort to fast-track the reopening of businesses, sports arenas and entertainment venues in the state.

New York is the first state to formally create a digital passport for COVID-19. The free online platform, called Excelsior Pass, was developed with IBM and works like a mobile airline boarding pass. Users are assigned a digital pass with a secure QR code, which they can print out or save to their smartphones. Participating businesses then use a companion app to scan the customer’s QR code and verify their COVID status. The state said people’s data would be kept secure and confidential.


“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 statement. “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 Biden administration has been monitoring private and not-for-profit efforts to develop vaccine passports, and is working to ensure that they meet certain standards, including for privacy, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters this month.

“As we increase the number of people vaccinated, we know some people may have a need to demonstrate that they are vaccinated,” Zients said. “The private sector and not-for-profit coalitions are already beginning to work on this. Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.”


As part of the initial launch, New Yorkers can use the digital pass to verify their COVID-19 status to attend games at stadiums and arenas, wedding receptions or other events above the state’s social gathering limit.

Major venues, including the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden in New York City, have announced they plan to use this technology in the coming weeks. Beginning April 2, smaller arts and entertainment venues can also use Excelsior Pass. Interested New Yorkers can sign up for the app at covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/excelsior-pass.