October 26, 2021

Pass slow to take off

Excelsior vax passport has only 1.1M downloads

NY Governor’s Press Office via AP

This photo shows the “Excelsior Pass” app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars.

As the state reopens and New Yorkers prepare for summer travel and look forward to sporting events, arts performances, country fairs and more, residents can store their COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination on their mobile devices.

New York State’s Excelsior Pass program was first introduced in March as the first government-issued vaccine passport in the country.

However, two months later, only 1.1 million Excelsior Passes have been downloaded for the 9.1 million New Yorkers who had been vaccinated, the New York Times reported. And the state would not say how many businesses had signed up.

So far, New York, California and Hawaii are the only states to start such a program; 18 states have banned them.

“It is a voluntary program,” said Lisa Perfetti, Cortland County’s interim public health director.

The smart device application shows a QR code that can be scanned by participating businesses or venues that want to make sure patrons are vaccinated. The app shows the user’s name, birthdate and confirmation the pass is valid — the state says no additional data is shared.

According to a May 7 Gallup survey, 57% of survey respondents favored mandated vaccination certification for airplane travel, and 55% to attend crowded events such as concerts or sports. But a majority opposed proof of vaccination for going to work, staying at a hotel or dining indoors at a restaurant.

Associated Press

This photo shows the mobile phone screen icon for New York State’s Excelsior Pass.

State guidelines require unvaccinated individuals to wear masks in accordance with federal CDC guidance. However, most industry-specific guidelines are now optional, meaning businesses and venues can choose how to uphold safety precautions — including whether they will require proof of vaccination.

On Friday, the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other COVID-19 safety measures as a highly contagious variant of the virus, the delta variant, spreads across the globe.

“The delta variant is more transmissible than any other variants we’ve found thus far,” said epidemiologist Isaac Weisfuse, an adjunct professor for Cornell University’s master of public health program. “It crowds out the other variants of the virus and will become, slowly but surely, the dominant one because it can be easily transmitted.”

Weisfuse said the new variant will be a greater concern among clusters of unvaccinated people, which could cause localized outbreaks.

“So far, the evidence shows that although the variant impacts people who have been vaccinated, they don’t actually get seriously ill, requiring hospitalization or dying,” Weisfuse said. “But the concern will be clusters of people who are not vaccinated, particularly in locations where vaccination rates are lower than others.”

State data show that as of Tuesday, 48.8% of residents in Cortland County have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, and 46% of residents in the county are fully vaccinated.

Although more than 64% of Tompkins County residents are fully vaccinated, that county’s health department encourages people to stay vigilant, practice good hygiene and get vaccinated.

“Our best tool to stop the spread of the virus, prevent variants from developing and protect ourselves from getting severely sick is the vaccine, which has led to a low number of cases and hospitalizations in the county,” said department representative Samantha Hillson.

Weisfuse said he doesn’t think the delta variant spread has yet reached the point of reinstating the COVID-19 regulations and mask mandates. The CDC estimates herd immunity to occur once the population reaches a 70 to 90 percent vaccination rate.

“It is possible that the CDC or the state may change the recommendations, so it’s good to be aware of those potential changes in coming months, but overall I think vaccination is the most important thing to do,” he said.