June Lake business first in nation to pilot ‘proof-of-vaccine’ app for May 7 concert

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

June Lake’s own T-Bar Social Club will hold the first ever concert in the country using a ‘proof of vaccine’ application that is designed to make sure every concert-goer is vaccinated – and that their privacy is protected, said owner Jamie Schectman this week.

Working with a software company that has created a ‘digital health wallet’ called Bindle Systems, Schectman has lined up a live concert this Friday, May 7 at the T-Bar Social Club featuring Lake Tahoe’s Supergroup, The Nomads.

Using the Bindle app, each concert-goer will upload their vaccine information; the app will then verify the information and a ticket will be generated (for more on Bindle and how it works, see below).

“The Bindle app enables each guest to upload their vaccination and testing status, select the event they are attending, and receive a scannable entry pass on their phone or a piece of paper,” Schectman said. “No sensitive data or health information is shared, thus satisfying HIPAA compliance regulations.

“It’s an honor for our little venue in the Eastern Sierra to be at the forefront of innovation and an early adapter of this cutting-edge and much-needed technology,” he said.

With an ongoing pandemic in parts of the U.S. and large chunks of the rest of the world; a pandemic which shows little sign of ending for months if not years, Schectman is betting some kind of proof of vaccination is the wave of the future for many live, large gathering events and he is determined to be both safe – and ahead of the game.

Both seem to come naturally to the business owner.

Married to a doctor who told him last March that the only way out of the coming wave of Covid-19 was a widely-distributed vaccine, Schectman was the first Mono County business to announce this year he was going to employ a vaccine policy for upcoming live events.

“We did a band survey of the 60 bands who had played here before and I asked if they were vaccinated and how important it was for the audience to be vaccinated,” he said. “Eighty percent of them planned to be fully vaccinated and on a scale of one to five, they rated the audience being vaccinated at a 3.8. This helped us guide our new vax policy.”

As soon as state metrics were met, he held a live concert (April 15) which was attended by 35 concert goers (the maximum capacity allowed at that time) who were able to show proof of being fully vaccinated.

“Governor Newsom said then if the crowd is fully vaccinated, you can have more people at the event,” he said. “(On April 15) we hosted what might have been one of the world’s first limited-capacity indoor concerts, with 100 percent of the crowd vaccinated. I can confidently say that everyone in attendance felt safe knowing the audience was fully vaxxed and everyone was stoked to be enjoying live music again.

“It was three hours of normalacy. People were dancing, and hugging,” he said. “It was therapeutic 3 hours for everyone in attendance.”

But to move forward to true normal for the T-Bar, i.e. bigger and louder, it was clear he was going to need a more efficient way to make sure people were vaccinated.
The potential for growth in his business this year is huge, he said, and he doesn’t want to miss out.

“I think coming out of the pandemic is going to be the new Roaring Twenties,” he said.

But with many vaccine cards still only in paper format, with no national or state or local agreements on how to verify vaccines – and with the entire issue mired in controversy – it was no small task to find a system Schectman believed he and his customers could trust.

But he knew there had to be someone doing the work, if not (yet) for live concerts, then to help open schools and offices.

“I think this is going to be the new norm, this is going to be the solution,” he said. “When we announced our vax policy, we knew there would be a like-minded company that would create a way for us to effectively manage entry to the club on show nights.”

That’s when a mutual friend put him in contact with Gus Warren.

CEO and Bindle co-founder Warren is a veteran software developer who is today helping re-open the state of New York using the Excelsior Pass system; a digital vaccine verification system.

“My dad is a doctor who ran the Infectious Disease department at the University of Maryland for many years before retiring a couple of years ago,” Warren said. “The founding of the company was the result of conversations with him last spring – when the pandemic was first starting – and then also the fact that when I was at Samsung's venture group, we made an investment in a company called Healthy.IO which allows you to take a picture of lateral flow assay test results and load the results onto your phone. And so, long story short, we sort of put those two things together and had this thought that ‘Hey, if you had low-cost tests or widely available vaccines and the ability to load that information onto a phone securely, it would be a pretty interesting way of proving to one another that we were unlikely to be infectious.

“And we thought this was going to be an important way to get safely back together,” he said. So, he and his team created Bindle, so named because, he said, “It's our interpretation of the little blanket-wrapped bundle, typically portrayed as hanging off the end of a stick, that was used by Western settlers, etc. All of your stuff, wrapped securely, when living a life defined by freedom,” he said.

Moving to using the application for concerts was a natural outflow of the work.

“Live event venues have suffered so much over the past year,” he said. “We built Bindle to safely bring our communities back together. We want to give everyone the freedom and confidence to enjoy the activities and experiences we’ve missed so much.”

But, in a world where every move you make can be traced through your phone, how is a digital health wallet app, an app designed to carry your personal health data on your phone, truly going to protect your privacy?

Warren said everything he and his team did at Bindle was designed with this very question in mind.

“Frankly, when we set out to build it, we knew that it would be somewhat controversial. And that's why we architected it the way we did. It's designed for everyone, including folks who are sort of generally suspicious of these kinds of platforms, and of being tracked or surveilled. Nobody but the individual has access to personal health information or personal data on our platform. We don't see it. The venue doesn't see it. The government doesn't see it. And that's a really important element of the system.

It works like this, he said, speaking to the Times Tuesday from New York. “So, the underlying technology is something called ‘self-sovereign identity,’ he said. “It’s a concept that's been around ever since blockchain came around, and you know people in the tech industry have been talking about it for years as sort of a new way to handle personal data online. This is sort of anathema to how the big tech companies think about data. The way that it works with Bindle is that the information resides in a personal data locker that only the individual has access to, and all the data in that locker is encrypted with a private key that sits in the ‘Secure Enclave’ on your phone. This is in the same place as your credit card numbers are (and it is) specifically designed to be super secure. That's true on both Android and iOS. Basically, what happens when you show up at a venue is that we look at the venue's health screening guidelines and we determine whether your health status meets the guidelines. And then we provide a simple “yes” or “no” to the venue. So, the venue never sees any data, we don't see any of the data and the government doesn't see it.”

Warren said the company has signed dozens of contracts since starting deployments in January (for more info on Bindle, see info box below).

For his part, Schectman says he is ready to move forward. He has so far been met with acceptance and support, resistance, silence and just about everything in between at the local level.

“I have not heard of anyone other businesses implementing this policy so far... I think people are watching... but not doing it,” he said.

“I would say it is not split down party lines, but more split down to the anti-vaxxers. We’ve been called communists, socialists and part of the Nazi two-tier system,” he said, laughing out loud.

“When we first announced the proof of vax policy, there was some pushback. But when we announced the Bindle partnership, we received less negative feedback.”
The exception being someone who drew anti-vax and boycott graffiti on the sidewalk outside the building.

But he’s moving forward.

“As I said, this is likely the wave of the future; the train is leaving the station.” he said. “We want to be safe, return to normal and this is what we think is the best way to do both.”

• T-Bar Social Club: Located in June Lake, the T-Bar Social Club is a 100-person-capacity venue offering live music experiences. “When not hosting premium live music, the speakeasy bar serves beverages and pizza in a warm and inviting setting,” Schectman said. “The new T-Bar Terrace will be completed in time for the upcoming busy summer season.” To see a complete listing of upcoming events, visit www.tbarsocialclub.com
• Bindle app: This app is free to users and charges a nominal fee to the venue. Bindle provides an easy, secure way to safely return to shared spaces using Covid-19 test results and vaccination records. The app creates scannable entry passes without revealing sensitive personal data or health information. For more information, go to https://joinbindle.com