New York rolls out digital COVID-19 vaccine passport

Image of the Excelsior Pass and the companion scanning app

New York officials have launched Excelsior Pass, a free and voluntary digital app that verifies an individual's recent negative PCR test result or proof of vaccination.

Developed in partnership with IBM, Excelsior Pass is similar to a mobile airline boarding pass. Individuals can choose to print or store the pass on their smartphones using the Excelsior Pass Wallet app, and each Excelsior Pass includes a secure QR code that businesses and venues can scan using a companion app to verify COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test status.

Major venues, including Madison Square Garden in New York City and Times Union Center in Albany, have announced plans to use the technology in the coming weeks. Starting April 2, Excelsior Pass will also expand to smaller arts, entertainment, and event venues. App users will also be allowed to enter major stadiums and arenas, wedding receptions, and other events above the social gathering limit.

"New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back COVID, and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo continued, "The question of 'public health or the economy' has always been a false choice — the answer must be both. 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.”

As for privacy, Excelsior Pass doesn’t require participating New Yorkers to share underlying medical and personal information. Secure technologies, namely blockchain and encryption, are woven throughout the digital pass to protect user data. Furthermore, the app doesn’t store or track private health data.

“The Times Union Center looks forward to using this platform and making this excellent technology available for future events, comments Bob Belber, general manager at Times Union Center.

“With the convenience of Excelsior Pass, attendees will be able to easily gain access to the arena while promoting public health by showing proof of vaccinations or proof of negative test results on a mobile device. This will be a game changer for our venue's continued reopening process and for New Yorkers in the Capital Region and beyond.”