MONTPELIER — The state’s top health official says while more than 80% of the state’s eligible population has now received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the virus isn’t going anywhere.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s regular news conference Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said even though the state hit the 80% milestone Sunday, the effort to combat the pandemic continues. He said one of the tricky things about working in public health is that a disease is almost never completely gone.

“So long as COVID-19 is still present, even at the low levels we currently have in Vermont, it’s my job, and that of everyone connected to your health, to make sure that you and all of us continue to do everything we can to ensure that we don’t lose ground,” Levine said.

The state reported eight new cases of the virus Tuesday.

Levine again urged residents to get vaccinated if they haven’t already and said one reason to do so is to prevent the more-contagious variants the virus can turn into. The commissioner said the so-called Delta variant is now spreading across the globe and accounts for about 10% of cases currently in the United States.

Levine said this variant, first identified in India, has been shown to be more contagious than other strains of the virus and potentially more dangerous, though the science isn’t clear on that yet.

He said there have been three cases of the variant identified in Vermont. Levine said the first case involved an international traveler and one of the two reported today was a domestic traveler returning to the state, while the other’s exposure information was unknown.

“Now I’m hopeful we don’t see more of this virus, but we have seen this show before, variants that start slow and spread and finally become the predominant strain in the country,” he said.

The governor wasn’t in attendance for the beginning of his conference because he was on his weekly call with other governors and the White House about the pandemic response. When he returned, Scott said the variant was brought up on the call, as well.

The governor said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported the science shows the vaccines are effective against this variant.

Scott’s state of emergency declaration for the pandemic expired at midnight June 15 because of the state’s vaccination progress. The governor said would be sign an executive order to keep in place some provisions the state needs. Scott said his order keeps the National Guard on active status and extends the state’s access to federal funding for emergency housing and feeding programs.

Now that all of the pandemic restrictions have been removed, including the wearing of masks, Levine said he expects to see an increase in other respiratory illnesses like the common cold.

“It turns out that masking was actually effective in preventing a lot more than just COVID,” he said.

And he said it appears this virus will join the common cold as something we have to learn to live with. The commissioner said this virus will be added to the regular testing done when someone has a respiratory illness.

Levine said it’s unknown whether a booster shot will be needed for the vaccinated. He said it’s been about a year since people were first vaccinated in clinical trials and research is currently underway to see how well they are maintaining their antibody levels.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com

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