MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott says thousands of Vermonters continued to get vaccinated even though he removed all coronavirus pandemic restrictions a week ago.

The governor’s regular news conference Tuesday still had a strong focus on the pandemic, but it was the first held where that wasn’t the sole focus. Scott has said his formerly thrice-, then twice-, now once-weekly briefings held in response to the pandemic have been popular with residents and have given reporters outside of the Montpelier area more access to his administration so he is continuing them in a more general fashion.

Last week, he announced the state had reached his goal of 80% of the eligible population with at least one dose of the vaccine. Scott said when Vermont hit that goal, he would remove all remaining pandemic restrictions. He lifted his state of emergency order and replaced it with an executive order which extended the state’s access to federal funding for emergency housing and feeding programs.

“As of today, we’re now at 81.3%, which is about 7,000 more people vaccinated over the last week and this is even after all restrictions have been lifted which is really encouraging to see,” Scott said.

The governor had typically missed the beginning of his weekly Tuesday briefings because he takes part in a call with other governors and the White House about the pandemic response scheduled for the same time. The state briefings have been moved back an hour so Scott started his comments with what he heard on Tuesday’s call.

Scott said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported the so-called Delta variant now makes up about 20% of the virus cases nationally. This variant, first identified in India, is said to be more contagious than other strains of the virus.

The governor said Walensky again stressed the vaccines work against this variant.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the CDC is now calling this strain a “variant of concern” because it is spreading in the United States with the potential to become the dominant strain here.

“Public health experts now believe the strain will likely become predominant in the U.S. within a number of weeks to months. The parts of the country where vaccination rates are much lower are expected to have significant outbreaks,” Levine said.

The commissioner said this strain is potentially more dangerous so he again encouraged anyone eligible who hasn’t yet to get vaccinated. Levine said if residents know anyone who isn’t vaccinated, to encourage them to talk to a health care provider or help them find a personal reason to get vaccinated.

“These conversations aren’t always easy, but listening and being empathetic and nonjudgmental can go a long way,” he said.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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