Top officials at the NBA and MLB hope the worst of theis behind them as teams start to welcome fans back into stadiums. But to watch the game live, a growing number of venues are asking visitors to prove they've gotten their shots by displaying what's called a "vaccine passport."
Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, are among a longer list of sports spaces that now require digital vaccine verifications. The arenas are doing so because of health safety protocols from their respective states. Those teams and others have been using an app called Health Pass from technology company Clear for COVID-19 screening. In some cases, showing your status on Health Pass could be the difference between watching a game in person or at home.
"Guests holding valid game tickets who cannot present proof of either a negative COVID-19 test within the required timeframes or proof of a COVID-19 full vaccination will not be allowed inside Yankee Stadium," the New York Yankees said in a statement posted on the team website Friday. "Guests may utilize Health Pass by Clear to confirm your COVID-19 test results for the event."
Patrons looking to enter an arena can show a recently taken negative COVID-19 test or proof that they've taken the vaccine.
The NBA said last month it's also using Health Pass for fan screenings. A third of NBA teams were using the app as of April 7, the league said.
The screenings arrive at a time pro sports leagues are projected to lose billions of dollars in revenue because of coronavirus shutdowns. MLB teams were losing a projected $640,000 per game due to the absence of fans, according to league data. The Yankees alone stand to lose $312 million for the lost season, the league said. The NBA meanwhile could lose $3.5 billion from its 2020-21 season because fans weren't buying arena tickets, concession stand food or parking vouchers, commissioner Adam Silver said in December.
Pro sports leagues are now urging fans to return so teams can recoup some of those losses. Yet using apps like Health Pass risks alienating some people, while public debate continues over whether someone's vaccination status should determine their ability to enter both public and private spaces.
Proponents say vaccine passports are key to further reopening local economies because they are reassuring to consumers and businesses. Others argue that having to prove you've been vaccinated violates health privacy laws.
Meanwhile, states like Utah, Texas, Florida and Montana have banned vaccine passports outright. Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana said vaccine shots are "entirely voluntary and will not be mandated by the State of Montana, nor compelled through vaccine passports, vaccine passes, or other compulsory means."
"We are committed to protecting individual liberty and personal privacy," he said in a statement last month.
As the debate rages on, other forms of vaccine passports are rolling out in the U.S and globally. New York State has implemented the so-called Excelsior Pass for residents to attend some sporting events and arts performances, while businesses and venues use it to scan you at the door.
The World Health Organization is developing what it calls a digital Smart Vaccination Certificate for people who want to travel internationally. In Israel, many residents use a "green pass" — a paper or digital certificate — to show they've been vaccinated, allowing them to enter restaurants, gyms and other businesses. Officials in China, Denmark and Japan have also said they plan to introduce vaccine passports for citizens.
The U.S. government will not require vaccine passports for travel or business activities, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's chief medical adviser for the pandemic, recently said. Anything resembling a digital pass is likely to be developed by the private sector, he added.