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Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center used for Excelsior Pass trials

The State of New York has teamed up with US technology giant IBM to trial a new COVID-19 health pass at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center.

Developed in partnership with IBM, the Excelsior Pass uses secure technology to confirm an individual’s vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test through a confidential data transfer. The technology is designed to help fast-track the reopening of theatres, stadiums and other businesses in accordance with New York State guidelines.

The new technology was tested during the initial phase of the pilot for the Brooklyn Nets’ NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Saturday, as well as the New York Rangers’ NHL ice hockey game yesterday (Tuesday) at Madison Square Garden. 

Similar to a mobile airline boarding pass, individuals are able to either print out their pass or store it on their smartphones using the Excelsior Pass’s ‘Wallet App.’ Each pass has a secure QR code, which venues can scan using a companion app to confirm someone’s COVID health status. 

The results of the pilot program are to be used to enhance the quality of the application, maximizing return on investment and saving development time, prior to submission to Apple and Google for approval to go into their app stores.

“We’re doing everything we can to vaccinate as many New Yorkers as possible, as quickly as possible, while keeping the infection rate down and reenergising our economy in a safe, smart way,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

“As we begin reopening the valves on different sectors of our economy, we are putting guidelines in place to ensure individuals attending events involving larger gatherings have tested negative for COVID or have been vaccinated to avoid an outbreak of the virus.

“The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way, allowing us to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal.”

The trial comes after fans returned to New York City sports venues last week for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19 as Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center hosted New York Knicks and Nets NBA games.

Cuomo announced last month that venues with a capacity of 10,000 or more would be permitted to stage events with a limited number of spectators from February 23, paving the way for the state’s sports teams to welcome fans back.

The announcement came on the back of a successful fan pilot programme involving the Buffalo Bills NFL American football team, which welcomed more than 6,000 spectators for its game against the Indianapolis Colts in January.

As part of major stadium and arena reopening guidelines announced by the Governor on February 10, venues must ensure that all staff and spectators receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event. During the pilot program, a subset of predetermined participants were able to use the pass to confirm their recent negative COVID-19 test and gain entry to the events at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden.

The State said “robust privacy protections are woven throughout” the digital health pass solution, giving individuals a secure, verifiable and trusted way to maintain control of their personal health information using an encrypted digital smartphone wallet or printed credential. The QR code only informs the venue if a pass is valid or invalid.

Steve LaFleche, general manager of IBM Public and Federal Market, said: “This solution can provide New York, and other states, a simple, secure, and voluntary method for showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or certification of vaccination. IBM is proud to support the State of New York with its efforts to apply innovative technologies to help residents and communities respond to COVID-19.”

Commenting on the venture, MSG Entertainment, which controls live events at Madison Square Garden, said: “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s leadership in reopening New York. The Excelsior Pass program, along with his decision to allow venues to begin welcoming fans, will play important roles in helping to get our city back on its feet.” 

The Excelsior Pass and its companion verification app are built on IBM’s Digital Health Pass solution and is designed to enable the verification of health credentials such as test results and vaccination records.

Using blockchain technology, individuals will be able to voluntarily share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone without the need to share underlying medical and personal information. The technology is flexible and built to scale, allowing other states to potentially sign up.