Are you ready to hit the streets before summer ends? You might need your COVID-19 vaccination card or digital copy in order to enter bars, nightclubs, restaurants and other outdoor music festivals in some parts of the U.S.
After resisting the idea of vaccine passports during most of the pandemics, a growing number of private venues as well as some local officials now require proof of immunization for public settings in order to limit the spread of the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant — and to soothe sceptical customers.
It’s unlikely the U.S. will adopt a national mandate like the one in France, which on Monday began requiring people to show a QR code proving they have a special virus pass before they can enjoy restaurants and cafes or travel across the country.
WHO’S QUESTIONING VACCINE PASSPORTS
New York City set the tone last week when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city will soon require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who wants to dine indoors at a restaurant, see a performance or go to the gym. San Francisco announced an even more stringent requirement Thursday for proof of full vaccination for all customers and staff at a number of indoor activities.
A growing number of private venues, from Broadway theaters to music clubs in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, have also established their own similar rules for patrons.
Tami Montgomery, the owner of Dru’s Bar Memphis, Tennessee said that she believes in the individual’s right to decide whether they want to get the vaccine. She also stated that Dru’s Bar has begun asking for photo ID and paper vaccine cards. It’s my business, and I must make decisions based upon what will protect my employees, customers, and business.
Organizers of the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago said on its opening day in late July that more than 90% of some 100,000 attendees presented proof of a vaccination, while most of the rest showed they’d recently had a negative COVID-19 test. Many others were denied entry due to lack of paperwork. And the event was still tied to more than 200 cases of COVID-19, officials said Thursday.
Only in a handful of states — Texas and Florida are the biggest — are private businesses prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Some venues will ask you to bring your vaccine card. This is the same paper that you receive from health providers and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is possible to take a photo of the card at home, and show it to the bouncer at club.
New York City has a simplified way to show a photo via its NYC COVID Safe App. This app allows people to store photos of their vaccine cards, and then display them in it when necessary.
Others encourage people to use a scannable electronic pass such as New York’s Excelsior Pass, which is used by New York and other states. Other systems are similar to those adopted by California and Louisiana. The state-sponsored digital passes can verify that a person has been vaccinated through an immunization registry.
These passes are intended to be convenient and prevent fraud. Adam Schwartz, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated that this is where privacy concerns are most prevalent.
QR CODES: WHAT IS WRONG?
The QR code, also known as a barcode, was originally created to track products in a factory. It’s now used more to track individuals’ devices.
Schwartz stated that these systems “are a huge leap towards tracking people’s locations.” “There is a real risk of mission creep when there are scanners at doors, and people show their scannable tokens to pass through.”
But the coalition that helped create the Smart Health Card framework used by New York, California and the Canadian province of Quebec say they’ve already set privacy safeguards to guard against misuse of health data.
As long as a venue uses a VCI-compliant scanner there should be no concern, Dr. Brian Anderson, chief of digital health at MITRE, and co-lead for the Vaccination Credential Initiative which includes Microsoft, Apple, and the Mayo Clinic. He said that the app will not store any individual’s data after the QR code has been scanned.
WHY STICK WITH PAPER?
Digital passports are more convenient for restaurants and other establishments that have already been overwhelmed by customers. Workers don’t need to look at everyone’s vaccination cards before allowing them in. The digital scan speeds up the process and reassures those who don’t want to lose or damage their paper cards. It’s also easy to fake a paper card or a photo of one.
CrowdPass, a startup that generates QR codes to allow people who have been vaccinated to attend events, claimed it was able help about 15,000 people get admitted quickly into the Newport Folk and Newport Jazz festivals. Participants had to upload digital proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Duncan Abdelnour (the startup’s president and co-founder) said that initially demand was slow. “But since we’ve had an uptick in demand, the delta variant has sprung,” said Duncan Abdelnour, co-founder and president of the startup. He explained that couples who are planning weddings or organizing small events have been among its clients. Abdelnour stated that the New York City announcement saw the greatest spike in calls.
Clear and Walmart are two of the most prominent players in this market. Many of them have signed on to the VCI’s privacy standards and code-of conduct.
Schwartz of the EFF says that the best advice to venues who need proof of vaccination is to ask for the CDC card, or a photograph.
Schwartz stated that the process of making vaccination checks should stop when there is a pandemic. He said that some of the companies in this sector have a history of being in data monetization. I won’t name names but these companies are the last to be involved in developing scanners that can prove vaccination.