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Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City announced a vaccine mandate on indoor venues as the Covid-19 delta variant surges nationwide. The executive order, which was enacted August 16, has restaurants, bars and gyms scrambling to decide which tech options they will use to enforce the rules.

Enforcement is scheduled to begin Sept. 13. After that, violations will incur penalties of at least $1,000, which will rise to at least $2,000 for a second violation and at least $5,000 for a third. The city has said it will send out 570 canvassers to all businesses in the city to help them understand the plan, followed by inspectors from various agencies to check compliance. Venues must display signage communicating the vaccination requirement.

The mayor’s “Key to NYC Pass” offers a combination of options for proving you have been vaccinated: the city’s Covid Safe app, the state’s Excelsior Pass app and the paper card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state launched the Excelsior Pass in March with the help of IBM at a cost of $2.5 million. The app, which exceeded 2 million downloads in July, connects to the official records of vaccinated people in New York state, and issues a pass with a QR code as certification. People submit their name, zip code, birth date and the county they were vaccinated to get the pass. Some restaurants, the Knicks, the Yankees and Springsteen on Broadway have used the app.

Some individuals have reported difficulty in confirming their vaccination status through the app. Privacy experts have also criticized its lack of clear guidance on how user data is protected.

NYC launched a competing offering, called Covid Safe, in late July, designed by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. The city’s app operates much more simply than the state’s, allowing users to upload a picture of their vaccine card. The information is stored nowhere but the person’s phone, according to the app’s user agreement – potentially alleviating privacy concerns. But it also eliminates the ability of a third party to verify the vaccine card, leaving it up to each venue to scrutinize the images.

Private companies are also offering ways to track vaccine status.

Clear Secure, a Manhattan technology company, has landed some city partners for its Health Pass app. It has an option to upload a CDC vaccine card and connects to some vaccination and Covid-19 testing databases for verification. Users take a selfie outside the venue they wish to enter. If the health data they uploaded matches the venue’s requirements – such as vaccination or a recent negative test – you receive a green “pass” on your phone to show venue staff. Clear’s partners include Shakespeare in the Park, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality restaurants and the Metropolitan Opera House.

SevenRooms, a software provider for restaurants, has added a feature that allows restaurants to require customers to attest they are vaccinated before making an indoor reservation online. They would need to show further proof once they arrive.

Venues with vaccine mandates already in place have largely adopted all of the above, plus a physical Covid-19 vaccine card. Some even accept a photo of a vaccination card. The proof of vaccination is inclusive of foreign vaccines as long as the official record is presented.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance was cautiously supportive of the mandate, but a spokesperson said it can create a difficult operational challenge for restaurants. On top of tech help, restaurants need buy-in from customers.

Shortly after the mandate was announced in mid-August, a handful of outer-borough mom-and-pop shops – including a gym and a few restaurants – said they are suing the mayor and the city, claiming their businesses are being unfairly targeted. They are seeking a permanent injunction against the executive order, calling it arbitrary and capricious. However, Bill Araiza, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, said he believes the mandate will stand.

Restaurants, bars and indoor venues may face up to $5,000 fines if they don’t require patrons to show proof of vaccination under the mayor’s executive order. All indoor venues will have to check that everyone age 12 and up who enters their premises shows proof of vaccination, and that proof must match the information on their official identification document, which they must also show.

The executive order defines a wide range of indoor venues that must check for vaccine passes, including movie theaters, casinos, indoor portions of botanical gardens, adult entertainment spaces, commercial event and party venues, museums, aquariums and zoos, sports arenas and indoor stadiums, convention centers and exhibition halls, bowling alleys, arcades, indoor play areas and billiards halls, as well as any indoor part of a restaurant, and all indoor gym and fitness settings, including pools, dance studios and hotel gyms.

Certain spaces and actions have been left exempt, including outdoor dining. Those who do not wish to show proof of vaccination can enter a venue if they need to use the bathroom or make deliveries or pickups, whether as a customer or a vendor. Restaurants that only offer takeout, with no indoor seating, do not have to card.

Venues can enforce stricter rules than the city’s requirements, if they so choose.

Sources: Crain’s New York Business, Crain’s New York Business, Crain’s New York Business