HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The Department of Public Health is advising all Connecticut residents to wear masks in public indoor spaces with the transmission rates much higher across the state. According to the CDC, most of the state is in the highest transmission category.

Hartford County is one of the six counties in Connecticut that is at high risk for COVID transmission. A new subvariant of omicron is a big reason why.

Doctors say masking indoors may be an inconvenience, but a necessity to reduce hospitalizations and help save lives.

“We are averaging anywhere from one to eight deaths a day,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, Chief Epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare. “Not a week, a day.”

Hartford HealthCare’s Dr. Ulysses Wu is concerned about the recent uptick in COVID-related deaths as the state’s positivity rate shoots higher. Cases are up 35% in the last week and that doesn’t take into account unreported at-home tests.

“Rates of COVID are going up,” said Dr. Albert Shaw. “We have a pretty high test positivity rate of over I think around 17 percent and that’s probably an underestimate because of the home testing people do not report to the state.”

The CDC identified six counties in Connecticut in the high COVID risk category including Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, Tolland and Windham counties. Doctors say a mutated subvariant, XBB1.5, and relaxed masking are causing the disease to spread faster.

“Once we took the masks off, it was first the rhinovirus, the RSV, then the flu, now the COVID,” Dr. Wu said.

Dr. Wu says no matter the county and its infection risk, everyone should be masking indoors when in public. He doesn’t see a downturn soon in cases or hospitalizations.

“I think things will get worse,” Dr. Wu said. “I don’t think we’ve reached the peak. I think that peak is coming soon. Remember it’s a social behavior-driven disease.”