State to roll out digital vaccination card system
Program announced as county prepares to require vaccination proof for some businesses
With Maui and Honolulu counties launching stricter rules for entering high-risk businesses and venues next week, the state is rolling out a program on Friday that will allow residents to access digital versions of their COVID-19 vaccination cards.
The voluntary Hawaii SMART Health Card program gives users a QR code that can be scanned at places that require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The vaccine information provided by individuals will automatically be verified against the state vaccination database,” Gov. David Ige said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “This will help prevent the use of fake vaccination cards.”
Vaccination card fraud has stoked concerns among government and health officials, particularly in places like Hawaii where vaccination status is a key component in avoiding the 10-day travel quarantine. Last month, a father and son were arrested after they reportedly tried to use fake vaccination cards at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. A woman who also arrived in Honolulu was caught with a fake vaccination card when she misspelled vaccine provider Moderna as “Maderna.”
Now,counties are looking to rely on vaccination status even more as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced recently that the island will launch a “Safe Access Oahu” program on Sept. 13 to require employees, contractors and volunteers of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, museums, arcades and other similar businesses be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week.
Shortly after, Mayor Michael Victorino announced that Maui County would roll out a similar program, “Safer Outside,” on Sept. 15, requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars and gyms, but offering the option for unvaccinated customers or those without proof to dine outside, order takeout or go through the drive-thru.
Residents who have been vaccinated in Hawaii and don’t want to carry paper copies of their vaccine card to restaurants and other businesses can access a digital version through the Safe Travels website at trav
els.hawaii.gov, said Doug Murdock, chief information officer with the Office of Enterprise Technology Services.
Users should create an account or log in to their existing one, upload a picture of their vaccination card and enter their vaccination information. Once the information is validated by the system, users will receive a QR code that they can present to businesses, which may use a SMART Health Card verifier app to confirm the person’s status. The app is available for Apple or Android devices at thecommonsproject.org/smart-health-card-verifier and does not give businesses access to the state’s vaccination database, Murdock said.
He added that businesses that don’t have the technology or solid cell service to scan codes can still accept physical copies.
Parents or guardians of vaccinated minors should upload each digital vaccine record request separately. In Maui County, the vaccine entry requirement only applies to people ages 12 and older; those under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine.
At this time, the program allows uploads of vaccination cards issued in Hawaii only. Those who have not been vaccinated in Hawaii can still present a hard copy of their vaccination documents.
“We have more plans for expanding the SMART Health Card in the future,” Murdock said. “This is our first iteration but we wanted to make it available as soon as possible. For example, at this time we’re only accepting vaccination cards, but we hope in the future to add negative COVID tests to the system.”
Murdock said that verification should only take a few seconds, though some people who got vaccinated in Hawaii through the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs or federal pharmacy programs may not show up in the Hawaii database.
Local officials have floated the idea of “vaccine passport” programs since the rollout began but have only recently taken steps to create the initiatives as the delta variant sparked a new surge in cases.
“Mayor Blangiardi and Mayor Victorino really wanted to implement the program immediately,” Ige said Wednesday. “Mayors (Mitch) Roth and (Derek) Kawakami have heard the concerns, and I have too, from the restaurants and other organizations about the impact that the mandatory vaccination or testing may have on their businesses. So I think both the Kauai and Hawaii island mayors are interested in the program and they want to see how it goes in Honolulu and Maui.”
For businesses who have spent the past year spacing out tables and deep cleaning their dining rooms, it’s just one more thing to enforce.
“I know that the majority of the employees here are not looking forward to the whole thing, just because it adds another thing we have to enforce after all these other COVID restrictions and makes our job just that much harder,” Coconut’s Fish Cafe Manager Makena Carroll said Wednesday.
Carroll said the digital vaccine card would make it easier for businesses to screen and for customers to access. However, she added that allowing visitors to travel to the state without being tested if they’re vaccinated “defeats the purpose” of requiring residents to be vaccinated to work or eat at restaurants. And, the mandates are tough on businesses trying to retain their staff.
“I’ve heard a lot of my employees talking about taking a three-month leave or however long it takes to blow over,” she said. “But I’m thinking, this is not going to blow over. You guys are not going to have a job. The mandate is still going to be in place. It makes me worried for them, because they’re long-term people who have been here forever and they’re talking about leaving because too much restrictions.”
If the rules go any further, “then we’re not going to have a business,” Carroll worries. “People can only take so much.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.