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State launches ‘Excelsior Pass’

People sign in to get COVID-19 vaccines at a clinic in late February in the North Country Community College gym in Saranac Lake, staged by the Essex and Franklin County health departments. (Provided photo — Chris Knight, NCCC)

The state of New York has launched the Excelsior Pass, a cellphone app that will give residents another way to prove they’ve been vaccinated or have recently tested negative for COVID-19.

The launch of the voluntary app, which was developed in collaboration with IBM, was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past Friday.

The Excelsior Pass is a free cellphone application that’s similar to a digital airline boarding pass. The app has a unique QR code for each person that venue staff and event organizers will be able to scan with their own free app to confirm whether or not the person has been fully vaccinated before letting the person into an event.

The app was built upon IBM’s Digital Health Pass solution, according to the governor’s office. It uses encryption and blockchain technology to ensure each user’s information is secure and private, and user information isn’t stored.

“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,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

The app is just one form of proof residents can use. Vaccinated residents are given vaccine cards when they receive their first dose, and that paper card can be used, too. A paper version of the Excelsior Pass can also be obtained through epass.ny.gov and printed out.

By confirming attendees are vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19, venues can open to more people for events. As of March 3, arts, entertainment and sports venues have been allowed to open for indoor events with a capacity cap of 100 people. With pre-event screening, the allowable indoor capacity can be up to 150 people. Outdoor events are capped at 150 people, but if there’s pre-event screening, up to 500 people can attend.

Lake Placid Center for the Arts Executive Director James Lemons said part of his venue’s challenge moving forward was validating that audiences are vaccinated or have tested negative.

“We will be using our Excelsior Pass as one of the tools that are available,” he said.

In the future, patrons of the LPCA may see two lines to get in the door — one for those using the Excelsior Pass app, and another for proof on paper, according to Lemons. For the LPCA, that will mean having more staff at events.

And there will be events. Lemons said the LPCA plans to announce a slate of outdoor, summertime events.

“We’re giving ourselves a couple of months to plan,” he said.

New Yorkers can find out how to download the Excelsior Pass by visiting covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/excelsior-pass.

Residents over the age of 30 will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccines starting today, March 30. Every New Yorker over the age of 16 will be eligible starting next Tuesday, April 6. The Essex County Health Department has a waiting list for vaccine appointments at www.co.essex.ny.us/health/covid-19-vaccine-waiting-list. Franklin County posts its clinic information at www.franklincountyny.gov/residents/covid-19_guidance/index.php. Eligible residents can also contact their local pharmacy, or get an appointment at a state-run clinic by visiting am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.

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