Virus Outbreak-New York

New York's new "Excelsior Pass" app is a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

(The Center Square) – New York state has announced the establishment of a digital app residents can use to offer proof of a coronavirus vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test.

While Excelsior Pass is intended to help hasten the recovery process for businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic, critics have raised concerns about its viability.

An announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday revealed that Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Times Union Center in Albany would start using the system to verify that ticker holders met state requirements for entry. The plan is to expand it to smaller arenas and event venues starting later this week.

The way Excelsior Pass works is, a resident will download the app to their Android or iPhone device. When they go to a participating business, residents will open the app and a QR code will appear. The business will then scan the code to verify the pass and allow the resident to come inside.

Residents also have the option of printing the code as well.

The technology was developed by IBM. Steve LaFleche, IBM’s general manager for public and federal markets, said the company took several steps to protect people’s privacy when they choose to use the app.

“Secure technologies, like blockchain and encryption, are woven throughout Excelsior Pass to help protect the data, making it verifiable and trusted,” he said. “No private health data is stored or tracked within the apps.”

The state is rolling out the app as it continues to expand the eligibility pool for those to get inoculated. On Monday, Cuomo announced that all adults 30 and older can begin scheduling their vaccine appointments starting on Tuesday.

A week later, all New Yorkers 16 and up will be eligible.

"Today we take a monumental step forward in the fight to beat COVID,” Cuomo said in a statement.

New York is the first state to make such an app available, and a proof-of-concept demonstration earlier this month allowed thousands to use the app to enter Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. In addition, there has been talk of developing a federal system that would enable those vaccinated or tested to gain entry to businesses and work sites.

However, Albert Fox Cahn, executive director for Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), said vaccine passports can exacerbate the digital divide between wealthier and poorer communities. In a statement released Monday, he described it as a form of “digitized segregation” since 20 percent of Americans do not own a smartphone.

Cahn said Excelsior Pass is also more focused on protecting businesses and not promoting public health.

One of the major concerns is that it sees vaccinated New Yorkers the same as those who have tested negative. Cahn added he’s concerned that there’s no data on how many people contracted the virus during the app’s test run earlier this month.

“This app is designed to make people feel better about returning to life as usual, but there’s no evidence this will actually work,” he said.