What Do I Need to Know About Health Passes?

Key Takeaways:

  • Health passes can provide proof of COVID vaccination or negative test results to allow entry into events.
  • Health passes do not store personal health data.
  • Federal, state, and local guidelines are changing by the day. Some are developing health passports while others prohibit their use.

As people are once again returning to sports events, entertainment events, and large weddings, event planners are using so-called health passes or vaccine passports to ensure attendees have received the coronavirus vaccine or have recently tested negative for the virus.

Some are from the private sector while others are being developed in collaboration with the government. In other cases, governments are banning their use.

Here’s what you need to know now about health passes at meetings and events.

Government rules and roles vary

In the U.S., the Biden administration has announced it does not plan to create a federal health passport, preferring to let the private sector come up with solutions. Instead, it will advise on what criteria the new solutions will have to meet.

Many of the government-affiliated passports, like the Digital Green Certificate under consideration in the European Union, apply to international travel. Israel’s Green Pass extends access to gyms and hotels. In the UK, a pilot program is testing a vaccine passport program for sports and entertainment events.

At the state level, New York was the first to debut a health app. The Excelsior Pass, developed with IBM, provides verification of vaccination or that the user has a recent negative COVID test. It was piloted at sports events and will be required at theaters, sports arenas, event venues, and at weddings with 100 or more people.

Other large states like Florida and Texas are fully open and do not require health passports. In fact, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has banned business and governments in the state from requiring proof of vaccination. Any business that asks for proof would not be eligible for state grants or contracts. He has said he will ask the state legislature to enact a law against health passports. Texas’s governor soon followed with a similar ban on vaccine verification requirements.

Cruise ships operating in the U.S. will not be required to get proof of vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control announced—in part to avoid a clash with the mega cruise ports in South Florida. It now merely recommends vaccinations.

How do they work?

Organizers first need to choose a health pass provider. Users register for free and enter personal information such as name and date of birth as well as other information to confirm their identity. The apps connect to the lab or government entity that provided their vaccination or test and encrypt the data into a QR code. No personal health data is stored or tracked within the pass.

Event organizers register for an administrative version of the app (some are free, some charge for access). At an event, they scan a QR code on the attendee’s smartphone. People without smartphones can print out a credential to bring to the event—similar to an airline boarding pass.

The app will then indicate whether the person can enter the event with easy-to-understand images: a green screen or check mark or a red screen or X. IBM also recommends that you verify the name and date of birth by cross-checking with a photo ID.

Can I require proof of vaccination at my events?

Yes, but be aware of restrictions in certain states like Florida (see above).

Companies like IBM and CLEAR offer solutions for private events. CLEAR’s Health Pass is an app that allows users to take health surveys to screen for COVID-like symptoms and link to labs to show proof of negative test results. Planners can also use CLEAR kiosks to take touchless temperatures. CLEAR is working on adding a vaccine validation feature but does not yet have that available. Health Pass has been used by sports teams such as the Detroit Tigers, Orlando Magic, and Los Angeles Football Club as well as the NHL during its playoffs.

IBM’s Digital Health Pass works similarly and lets the issuing organization—an event planner, venue operator, employer, or other entity—set the criteria that people need to meet for entry.

However, because vaccine availability varies across the world and some people may have health conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated, it may be too soon or unfair to require proof of vaccination. Consider accepting an alternative, like proof of a recent negative COVID test.

What are the benefits for event organizers?

Health passes mitigate the risk of in-person events by screening out people who may be infected with the virus. They also speed up the registration and entry process and offer a safer environment for front-line registration workers.

What’s on the horizon?

One important next step will be standardization for use across state lines and internationally. Since there are multiple providers, it’s possible that people would have to toggle between multiple apps for the airport, the hotel, a sporting event, and a conference. Ideally, the solutions will be designed to operate together and use common standards.

Right now, for instance, the Excelsior Pass only works in New York. Expect that to change, according to IBM’s Steve LaFleche. “Because the digital health pass runs on the open standards of blockchain technology, it can interoperate easily with other solutions so that people won’t have to rely on multiple apps when going about their daily lives,” he wrote on a company site. “Its open architecture also allows other states to join the effort, which could provide the foundation for a secure and interwoven ecosystem enabling governments, businesses, and people nationwide to power a safer, trusted transition to a post-pandemic reality.”

Dealing with the patchwork of laws and regulations state by state—particularly as the issue becomes politically polarized—will be another challenge.

Will there be life for these after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. Experts have predicted that we could experience more frequent pandemics. Health scans may become a permanent part of travel and event entry much like metal detectors.

Train your entire frontline team for the return to in-person events with a three-hour micro training course: Pandemic On-Site Protocol Training.

Additional resource for ELI members: Smarticle | Tips for Starting an On-Site COVID Testing Protocol at Your Event