N95 and surgical face masks Credit: Ronni Newton / We-Ha.com

The number of patients hospitalized in Connecticut with COVID-19 climbed this week to 515, its highest census since early February, prompting doctors and public health officials to advise residents to consider wearing masks while gathering this holiday season. 

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported Thursday that an additional 48 residents were hospitalized with the virus, in a weekly update which found the state’s COVID positivity rate also on the rise at 11.43%. With many residents using at-home tests, officials believe this number to be underrepresenting the number of cases in the state. 

Thursday’s metrics continue an upward trend observed over the last few weeks and come on the heels of spikes in cases of both influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. Meanwhile, residents are increasingly gathering with friends and family for holiday celebrations. 

During a remote press conference earlier this week, Dr. Ulysses Wu, an infectious disease expert at Hartford Healthcare, said people should consider masking up when gathering indoors this year in an effort to protect themselves and the more vulnerable residents.

“Masking is good common sense,” Wu said. “If you remember from previous respiratory seasons, we basically had a non-existent respiratory season with the exception of COVID so masking works.”

Those decisions look likely to remain a personal calculation for Connecticut residents as opposed to the mandates imposed by the state during the height of the pandemic. Asked earlier this week about the recent increase in respiratory illnesses, Lamont told reporters he saw no need to require masks. 

“I don’t see any need at this point to think of any further restrictions. Obviously when it comes to going into school, if you’re showing symptoms please don’t go or test before you go,” Lamont said. “If you’re showing symptoms and you want to go, I’d recommend that you wear a mask. But there’s not going to be any need to require masks at this point.” 

The governor said Connecticut continued to have adequate capacity at its hospitals and noted that much of the strain on facilities in recent weeks has been driven by influenza cases rather than COVID-19.

As of Thursday, there were more than 22,000 cases of influenza in Connecticut and 531 flu patients hospitalized at state hospitals, according to the Public Health Department, which also reported that 18 residents had died of influenza this season including one child from New Haven County. 

“The flu continues to circulate and is particularly dangerous to the very youngest and the oldest people in your life,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, state public health commissioner, said. “The holidays are just around the corner so I strongly recommend that persons 6 months of age and older get a flu shot to help protect themselves and their family members.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, Wu predicted the flu season would peak in late January. Wu and other public health officials advised residents to stay up-to-date on COVID vaccines and annual flu shots.