Lancaster County saw another small decline in COVID-19 cases last week.
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department reported 633 cases for the week that ended Saturday. That was down more than 3% from the previous week, and it was the second straight weekly decline in case numbers.
Hospital numbers also declined, with the rolling daily average of COVID-19 patients in Lincoln hospitals dropping from 47 last week to 41 as of Tuesday. There were 35 patients hospitalized as of Tuesday, the lowest number since July 7.
The Health Department said its risk dial would remain in the low-orange range for the third week in a row. That position on the dial indicates the risk of the virus spreading in the community is high.
Despite the decline in cases and in hospitalizations, Lancaster County is in the "high" category for community levels of COVID-19 according to updated tracking by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends people wear masks in indoor settings and on public transportation in communities in the "high" category.
Because of the designation, both employees and the public are required to wear masks at the Robert V. Denney Federal Building in downtown Lincoln.
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird earlier this month began requiring city employees to wear masks, but the mandate does not extend to the public.
The local COVID-19 numbers are generally in line with those statewide.
The CDC reported that there were 3,599 new cases in the seven-day period that ended Friday, down from 4,030 the previous week. Hospitalization numbers rose slightly, from an average of 177 a day to 185 per day.
Nebraska’s case numbers remain at relatively low levels compared to the nation, about 25% below the U.S. rate. Nationally, COVID-19 cases were down roughly 5% last week, with almost two-thirds of states reporting declines, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The official tallies are considered undercounts, with many infected people either not testing or using at-home tests that aren't reported to public health agencies or included in official counts.
All of that has made it challenging to determine how the pandemic will trend next. Case counts currently are higher than they were at this time during each of the past two summers.
Dr. James Lawler, a co-executive director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Global Center for Health Security, said COVID-19 case growth has slowed a bit in Nebraska and in some parts of the country.
"The reality is we're in kind of this weird time of year when you have lots of forces that act against one another," he said. "(Summer) has typically been our period of lowest COVID activity."
It's possible that Nebraska may see a dip in case counts before fall, but Lawler said, "If I had to guess, we're probably not going to see a huge drop in case counts and disease activity in the next couple weeks."
Lawler said the start of school next month is likely to push cases up by September. Overall, the pattern is similar to that of last year, indicating a rough fall and winter ahead.
The Omaha-World Herald contributed to this report.