With COVID-19 cases on the rise this summer and vaccinations leveling, New York City will start requiring a wide range of venues to check patrons and workers for their vaccination status. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, only proof of vaccination will grant access to indoor dining, fitness clubs and shows at indoor entertainment venues, including night clubs, concert halls and movie theaters. There was initially confusion about the start date of the rule after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced it would go into effect the week of Aug. 16, though he said Monday that his executive order would be in force beginning Tuesday. 

The paper vaccine card received after immunization will get people in the door, but New Yorkers can also use one of two mobile apps — one developed by the city and one by the state — to store vaccine information. 

Currently, just over 56% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, and just under 38% are unvaccinated. 

While enforcement of the vaccine passport will not begin until Sept. 13, the rules have left some open questions for patrons and business owners alike. Here are answers to some of the key questions on the city’s new vaccine rules. 

Why is a vaccine passport necessary?

New York City has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases over the past month, with the seven-day average for new cases reaching the same level as back in April, according to city data

The uptick has been driven by the delta variant, city health officials say, which scientific data show to be much more infectious than earlier variants of the virus. And while the city’s recent efforts to spur vaccination, such as offering $100 for first immunizations at city sites and requiring city workers to get vaccinated or face weekly testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio has framed the vaccine passport rule as another method to encourage vaccination. 

“The bottom line is, this has been already a policy that is changing minds, that is helping us move forward in the fight against COVID,” he said in a news briefing Aug. 4 announcing the plan. 

Who has to show proof of vaccination?

Everyone eligible for the vaccine — which means all residents 12 years old and up — must show proof of vaccination to enter dining, entertainment and fitness venues, de Blasio said. Children under 12 must wear masks in those settings. The city has not said yet how the rules may apply to people who have foregone the vaccine for medical or religious reasons. 

How can I show proof of the vaccine?

Present your paper immunization card or show proof of vaccination through the state’s Excelsior Pass app or the city’s NYC COVID SAFE app. 

The state app uses personal information to check against state vaccination records, and a variation of the vaccine pass the app offers, called the “Pass Plus,” may allow businesses “to save or store the information contained,” according to a state FAQ about the app. The state recommends that patrons ask businesses about their policies on sharing and storing personal information before showing their pass. 

The state and IBM, which developed the app, have said the app uses blockchain technology to safeguard personal information, but has not detailed exactly how.

The city’s app, however, is not connected to the internet at all, according to Jessica Tisch, the city’s information technology commissioner, meaning that it does not store personal data and businesses cannot store or use that data themselves. The app only requires you to take a picture of your vaccine card, which is stored on your phone. All the information put on the app is stored only on your device, Tisch said in announcing the app in July. 

Residents can also use the city app to store testing information, which is automatically deleted from the app after seven days to comply with the city’s test-or-vaccinate rule for municipal workers. 

With the state app, businesses scan a QR code generated on the app. The city’s app only shows an image of the vaccination card. 

I got vaccinated outside of New York, what do I do?

You can use the city’s app to take a picture of your out-of-state vaccine card. The city has said it will allow businesses to accept any of the eight vaccines validated by the World Health Organization for emergency use. 

When will the city start enforcing the pass?

Enforcement for requiring vaccines at the door to certain venues will begin on Sept. 13. On Monday, City Hall announced that violations of the new rules would initially result in a $1,000 fine, followed by $2,000 for the second violation and a $5,000 fine for successive violations. 

The intervening month between when venues must require proof of vaccine from patrons and when the city will begin enforcing the rule is meant to help those venues get used to the system, and for the city to educate businesses about how to best require such proof, de Blasio has said. 

He said he expects most businesses to voluntarily use the system, as they have enforced mask and distancing rules throughout the pandemic. 

“It hasn’t taken a lot of fines,” he said. “People have been right there with it.”

How are business owners reacting to the new rules?

Rrestaurant owners are showing mixed feelings about the vaccine requirements. 

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said there remain some significant questions about how restaurants in particular will be required to follow the rules: Can an unvaccinated patron dining outdoors use the restroom inside? Can an unvaccinated person pick up takeout food indoors? 

“Restaurant workers once again get put in the challenging spot of being COVID enforcers,” Rigie said. “To the dining public, whether you support or oppose the vaccine requirement, be respectful of restaurant workers. They're just trying to do their job in a stressful situation.”

While Rigie said that many restaurant owners are looking forward to putting more stringent safety standards in place to protect workers and guests, some are ambivalent. 

Massimo Felici, the chef and owner of the wine bar Vinum on Staten Island, said he is hopeful that the new rules will prevent another lockdown, which he said his business could not survive. But he feels that the rules are still an overreach because the Food and Drug Administration has not given the vaccines full approval. There is no scientific evidence that the vaccine is unsafe, and severe side effects of the vaccine are exceedingly rare. 

“If I wasn't in the restaurant business, I would say it's absolutely wrong that the government is forcing people to take a vaccine that is not fully approved,” he said. 

Which kinds of businesses will be affected?

Here is a full list from the city of which kinds of businesses will be required to ask patrons and employees for proof of vaccination.

  • Restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops
  • Catering halls, cafeterias, event spaces and banquet rooms
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Dining spaces in grocery stores
  • Fast food restaurants
  • Movie and performing arts theaters
  • Live music and concert venues
  • Museums, exhibition halls and galleries
  • Aquariums and zoos
  • Sports arenas and stadiums
  • Convention centers
  • Bowling alleys, pool halls, game centers and arcades
  • Gyms, fitness centers, workout classes and pools
  • Dance studios
  • Casinos
  • Adult entertainment venues