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New York City Enacts Vaccine Mandate For Indoor Activities, Confusing the Whole Country

Starting in September, people in New York City will be required to show they have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to eat indoors, visit gyms, and go to the theater. The new program is called "Key to NYC Pass", but does not, as the name suggests, include the publication of a new app or a vaccination pass. Instead, people can show a paper CDC vaccination card or an existing vaccination pass app to prove their status.

The initiative marks the first time a major U.S. city has issued such a vaccination mandate, and it immediately puzzled the public.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference Tuesday that the Key to NYC Pass – which, in turn, is a program, not an app or vaccination pass – is designed to increase vaccination rates across the city. The announcement comes just a day after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged private companies to require Covid-19 vaccination for entry to bars and restaurants. Currently, about 30 percent of adults in New York City are not yet vaccinated. This is roughly on par with the rest of the United States.

Not all of the details for the new program are clear. Mayor de Blasio says the program will start on August 16 and that more information about the plan will be available in the coming weeks. The system will be implemented on a voluntary basis starting August 16, and the city will enforce the new requirements on September 13 after Labor Day, when city officials expect indoor activities to become more popular. The town hall told Recode that it plans to inform the affected industries about the enforcement of the new rules, but did not provide any further details.

“The goal here is to convince everyone that now is the time. We will stop the Delta variant, ”de Blasio told reporters. "That means getting vaccinated now."

De Blasio explained that in addition to showing a CDC card, people can also use two government-sponsored apps to prove their status: the New York state Excelsior passport, which connects to the state's vaccine registry, and one Provides QR code for scanning locations to check a person's status; and the newer NYC Covid Safe app, which is essentially just a handy place to save pictures of CDC vaccine cards, Covid-19 test results, and photo identification. (Some have criticized the NYC Covid Safe app for lack of security features as it currently does not check the validity of vaccination cards.)

Still, the announcement made many think that the Key to NYC Pass program would include the launch of another app. The mixed message isn't all that surprising. Since the Covid-19 vaccinations debut, there has been ongoing confusion about how people can confirm they have received a vaccine, especially as more companies and corporations have issued their own vaccine mandates. At the same time, private companies have launched a number of competing apps.

Very cool w that. The question is, can't we just use the Excelsior Pass? Why do we need a separate "Key to NYC Pass?" https://t.co/lzfqFrKhv3

– Robin Lester Kenton (@lesterhead) August 3, 2021

Hell yeah let's do this!

But also whyyyyyyy there will be another digital passport thing. This one, called "Key to NYC Pass" (: – /), is in addition to the existing (terrible) City app and (good, but only New Yorker) State app. https://t.co/xcZiJFJfjm

– Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) August 3, 2021

The city's statement on the new vaccine requirements puzzled even Recode's Peter Kafka:

Sooo. Maybe this isn't a new passport after all, just a clumsy and confusing way of describing the use of existing Vax IDs – city, state apps, and CDC paper maps?

Very on brand for @NYCMayor. https://t.co/XN7ZzJOg1J

– Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 3, 2021

New York City's new program also comes as the White House eschews a federal immunization mandate or vaccination passport system. Instead, Biden's government has helped private companies and local governments advance their own vaccine requirements. On Tuesday, just days after encouraging private companies to take "innovative steps" to promote vaccination, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that a federal vaccination mandate was still not on the table. However, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky suggested last week that European-style health passports could be a "way forward" from the pandemic.

In fact, the new vaccination mandate for certain indoor activities in New York will rekindle the wider discussion about vaccination passport use, which remains controversial in the US. New York, which launched the country's first government-sponsored vaccination passport app in March with help from IBM, was optimistic about the technology. But other states have banned the use of vaccine passports, calling them a government violation and an invasion of people's privacy. Norwegian Cruise Line is currently suing Florida surgeons general over such a ban.

Vaccination pass programs have been tried and tested in other countries, and there is evidence that these regulations increase vaccination rates. In France, for example, a new health pass system that requires proof of vaccination for indoor restaurants, long-distance trains and shopping malls sparked protests – but also led to record registrations for vaccination appointments. Israel and Italy have also introduced similar vaccination pass systems to increase vaccination acceptance and contain the effects of the Delta variant.

Some private companies have made it their business to check the vaccination status of customers and even issue their own vaccination mandates. Last month, a San Francisco-based alliance that represents around 500 bars announced that its members would need proof of vaccination or a negative test before offering indoor service. Fitness chain Equinox, which also operates SoulCycle, said all of their customers and employees will eventually have to provide proof of vaccination, a policy that will be implemented in their New York gyms starting September.

A growing number of large companies have also announced vaccination mandates for their employees. Google, Facebook and Microsoft have announced that workers will have to show that they have been vaccinated. Disney requires all employees and non-union employees to be vaccinated within the next two months. Walmart, the largest employer in the United States, announced late last month that its office workers would need to prove they had received a Covid-19 vaccine. And Tyson Foods, the second largest meat processor in the country, requires all of its employees to get the shot.

New York City's new plan comes out of fears there could be a fourth wave of Covid-19 triggered by the Delta variant and people moving activities indoors when the weather cools. When a big city shows that vaccination regulations are helping stop the spread, the hope is that other local governments will become aware of it. At least New York City is showing its residents and visitors that getting the vaccine can open doors.

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