Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of public health Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut’s public health commissioner warned Friday of the onset of the respiratory viral season but said two of those ailments — influenza and COVID-19 — could be mitigated by available vaccinations and booster shots. 

During a virtual afternoon press conference, Dr. Manisha Juthani, state commissioner of public health, said the state was seeing an increase in cases of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as the weather becomes colder. COVID cases, meanwhile, have been holding steady but were expected to rise during the winter months. 

“We are in the midst of the respiratory viral season which we see every year and this is really an opportunity to emphasize that there are many respiratory viruses that circulate this time of year — the list is long — but we have two that are vaccine-preventable,” Juthani said. “These include COVID and flu.” 

Juthani encouraged Connecticut residents to protect themselves and their loved ones ahead of the holiday season by getting vaccines or booster shots for the viruses. 

Although Connecticut’s COVID rates have been relatively stable for weeks, Juthani said public health officials expected an increase was on the horizon. As of Thursday, there were 389 COVID patients in Connecticut hospitals and the state’s positivity rate was at 8.29%. Juthani said the positivity metrics were likely underrepresenting the number of true cases as many residents have utilized home test kits and not reported the results to the state.

“I know of instances, for example a wedding that I heard about where there were many, many family members who all tested positive but they all tested positive on self test kits so that would not have been captured or reported anywhere,” she said.

Meanwhile, many young residents were likely experiencing their first exposure to RSV, a respiratory virus that largely impacts children. Of the 292 cases reported to the state in the last 30 days, Juthani said most were among children two years old or younger.

“These children were born during the pandemic. They were probably not taken out and socialized as much over the last year or two and so this respiratory viral season, they are now getting exposure to RSV,” she said. 

Juthani said a recent spike in RSV cases in the Hartford area seemed to have plateaued while cases appeared to be on the rise in the southern end of the state. 

Connecticut is also beginning to see a rise in cases of the flu, which Juthani said seemed to be related to a recent spike in cases in New York. In the last week, doctors have reported roughly 100 cases and seven residents were currently hospitalized with influenza, Juthani said. 

“We are seeing that uptick [in flu cases] right now,” Juthani said. “It’s mostly in the southern part of the state right now in terms of flu activity but I would anticipate that this is going to continue across the state.” 

Despite the seasonal increases in viral transmission, Juthani said Connecticut currently had adequate hospital capacity for both children and adults. 

“Although this is a consideration, we don’t have concern that we can not take care of patients in the state of Connecticut,” she said. 

That does not mean that public health officials aren’t concerned by the potential for strain on the hospital system in the future, however.

“Part of what we’re trying to do today is alert people in Connecticut that we could get to a point as the winter goes on where that could be an issue,” Juthani said. “So what we want to do is really reinforce to parents, to adults that we have two vaccine-preventable infections that we can really try to mitigate some of that pressure in terms of hospital bed capacity as the winter goes on.”