California plans a digital vaccine verification system as it prepares for full reopening

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

California plans to launch a statewide electronic vaccine verification program, which Gov. Gavin Newsom does not call a passport. 

The state fully reopens on Tuesday, meaning fully vaccinated Californians will no longer have to practice social distancing or wear masks in most places. Unvaccinated residents must still wear masks. Businesses can still enforce their own safety measures, but the pending verification system could allow them to eventually check customers’ vaccination status. 

Details about the system are still murky because the plan is new, says Emily Hoeven, who writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. 

“There are a lot of anxieties around people manufacturing these [fake] vaccine cards online and selling them to people. The attorney general, the governor's office have put out warnings of these fraudulent cards,” Hoeven tells KCRW. “I think this online system is one way they're going to try to make sure that people are telling the truth.”

She points out that California is doing well at its current stage of the pandemic. More than 70% of Californians have received at least one vaccine dose, and 55% are fully vaccinated. However, anxieties about the full reopening still persist. That includes going to large gatherings/events.

“Public health experts have said there probably will be some level of uptick, which is just kind of inherent and having a lot of people mixing that haven't mixed in a long time. But the hope is that enough people have gotten at least some level of inoculation [so] that things won't get back to a bad situation.” 

As the state reopens, Hoeven notes that workers will still be required to wear masks. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) will vote later this week on whether to allow fully vaccinated workers to ditch their face coverings. 

How different will California look when it reopens? Hoeven says it’ll generally feel like a pre-pandemic world. 

“If you're just an average person, you can go about your life pretty much as normal. It'll be kind of an interesting transition after 15 months of not doing that,” she says. “It's gonna be a bit strange, even for me. I reflectively just grab my mask. And I'm still gonna keep carrying it because certain places might require it, but it's gonna be kind of an abrupt snap.”

She adds that the June 15 reopening date is somewhat random. 

“It's sort of a reminder that the actual conditions themselves are not necessarily changing. Our behavior is going to change. … This whole past year has been so surreal. And I think all of a sudden seeing bustling restaurants indoors and all of a sudden not having to stay six feet apart, it’s kind of like, was the past year and a half a dream?” 



  • Emily Hoeven - writer for WhatMatters, CalMatters’ daily newsletter