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Regional Interests

Californians Can Now Get Digital Vaccine Cards

California on Friday announced it will offer residents a digital record of their coronavirus vaccination that they can use to access businesses or events that require proof of inoculation.

The state’s public health and technology departments said the Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record tool will allow Californians to access their record from the state’s immunization registry. It will show the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to document coronavirus vaccinations.

To access the information, users will input their name, date of birth and email or phone, and they will be asked to create a 4-digit PIN. The record will include a QR code and users can save it to their phones.

Gov. Gavin Newsom denies the electronic verification system is a “vaccine passport.”

Following a drop in coronavirus cases and rise in vaccinations, California this week lifted a slew of pandemic-related restrictions. Vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks at most indoor locations, though the unvaccinated still must do so. Everyone must continue to wear masks in some places such as on mass transit and in health facilities.

Additionally, vaccinated employees can unmask in workplaces. State workplace regulators on Thursday approved revised rules allowing fully vaccinated employees the same freedoms on and off the job, including ending most mask and physical distancing requirements. Newsom immediately issued an executive order waiving the usual 10-day legal review and allowing the changes to take effect as soon as they are filed with the secretary of state.

The rules apply in almost every workplace in the state, including offices, factories and retailers. They come after weeks of confusion as the California Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board flip-flopped over changes.

The measures adopted in a 5-1 vote, with one member absent, now conform with general state guidelines that took effect Tuesday by ending most mask rules for vaccinated people. Employers can require workers to show proof of vaccination or allow them to self-report and keep a record.

Unvaccinated workers are still required to wear masks.

Everybody, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks on mass transit and in health facilities.

However, what constitutes proof of vaccination has also prompted confusion: will only paper cards do, or can photos of the cards or digital confirmations do?

California already has a confidential public health database on the tens of millions of people who’ve been vaccinated. Earlier this week, Newsom said the state was working on a way for people to show that they have been vaccinated without having to carry their paper card.

About two dozen states have banned state-required vaccine passports and some, including Texas, also barred businesses from requiring vaccinations.

But Newsom on Monday noted that the electronic verification system isn’t mandatory.

“It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement,” Newsom said.

Under the workplace rule changes, employers also have the right to require everyone to remain masked — vaccinated or not. And vaccinated employees will still be able to wear masks if they choose without facing retaliation.

The changes also end physical distancing in workplaces except for certain workers during major outbreaks. Vaccinated employees won’t need to be tested or quarantine unless they show symptoms, even if they have close contact with an infected person.

The California Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 14,000 members, said the changes “will help employers move forward and fully reopen.”

“What’s very difficult is to figure out what the balance is so that we’re doing the most good for the most people, but not at all dismissing the vulnerable in our population,” said Chris Laszcz-Davis, a management representative on the board.

But board member Laura Stock, an occupational safety expert who cast the lone opposition vote, warned that the pandemic is not over.

“This has real consequences that people can get sick and die due to exposure in the workplace,” Stock said.

Copyright 2021 KQED