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New York Launches Vaccine Status Mobile Phone App


New York state is launching a new phone app that will allow people to quickly show their coronavirus testing or vaccination status. Officials say the Excelsior Pass will give people quicker access to gatherings, including sports arenas and large weddings, where the state's public health rules are still in effect. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When Governor Andrew Cuomo gave a briefing this week, he talked a lot about reopening businesses and venues, getting the economy going again. But he also gave a warning.


ANDREW CUOMO: We have made tremendous progress. But anyone who says it's over, they're wrong. Seventy-one people passed away.

CUOMO: There are still thousands of new coronavirus cases confirmed in New York every day and dozens of deaths. The challenge, says Mark Dorr with the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, is reopening more places like sports arenas and Broadway theaters when the coronavirus is still lurking.

MARK DORR: I think confidence is the biggest dilemma, I guess, to overcome as we head into the busy season - confidence in getting people out to travel.

MANN: So New York state partnered with IBM to create a smart device app that includes a scannable barcode similar to the one used in airline boarding passes. They say it's voluntary. It's free to download. It keeps most of your personal information private. Dorr says business venues can check customers' barcodes to find out if they've been vaccinated or tested negative for the coronavirus within the last three days.

DORR: The business will be able to really quickly recognize that the proper protocols have been followed in order to have a safe entry into the business.

MANN: From the start of the pandemic, smart devices have been used for contact-tracing and public health alerts. But this appears to be the first app in the U.S. that shows this kind of personal coronavirus status, though officials in Hawaii are working on a similar vaccine passport.

Melissa Fleischut, who heads the New York State Restaurant Association, doesn't think smaller venues like restaurants and bars are likely to use the app. But she points out many businesses that host larger crowds, including caterers and wedding organizers, are still required to follow strict public health rules. That includes making sure people are vaccinated or have recent negative tests. Until now, she says, checking people's status was super-inefficient.

MELISSA FLEISCHUT: Paper, for example, or an Excel spreadsheet or something like that.

MANN: She thinks this app will help, and she agrees it might give people a little more confidence when venturing back into venues with really big crowds.

FLEISCHUT: You know, if you knew that everybody in that area near you had either tested negative or had received the vaccine, you know, I think you could feel pretty good about going to those events and feeling comfortable even when the numbers got really high like that.

MANN: Some large sports and concert arenas, including Madison Square Garden, have already started using the app. New York state's caterers and wedding planners can start using it with their customers April 2. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.