KEARNEY — COVID-19 cases are rising again in central Nebraska.

This weekend, 17 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Dawson and Buffalo counties, according to the Two Rivers Public Health Department. Of those, 10 cases were in Buffalo County. Seven were in Dawson County.

Although new cases in the Two Rivers seven-county region had dropped to just one or two per day in recent weeks, in the past 10 days, Buffalo County has seen 26 new cases, and Dawson County has added 16. That included 15 new cases from July 6-9, including six in Buffalo County and seven in Dawson County.

“We kind of anticipated this. People are socializing more than they did this spring,” said Chris Fankhauser, an emergency response coordinator at Two Rivers. “We can’t even say we’re in the ‘second wave’ because that ‘first wave’ has never gone away.”

She noted that the average age of people testing positive both in Nebraska and in the nation is between 20 and 39. That has dropped significantly since the pandemic began in March, when people older than 55 were more frequently infected.

Fankhauser stressed that masks are a critical line of defense against COVID-19.

“Many people don’t like wearing them. I don’t necessarily enjoy wearing one, either, but with so many people out socializing, you get a spike in numbers without them,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended cloth face coverings in public for people who are around individuals who do not live in their household, she said. Everyone older than the age of 2, except for those with medical conditions that could be compromised by a mask, should never go outside without one.

“This virus is still so new that we don’t know what the long-term effects will be on those who recover from it. What happens if they discover this causes breathing issues? We want everyone to be very careful until researchers get a better understanding of this virus,” she said.

At the end of June, as cases began to subside, Two Rivers said it would no longer issue daily press releases about new cases of COVID-19 unless five or more cases were reported in a single day. That happened last Thursday and again Monday. Press releases were issued both days. That will continue as long as cases keep rising.

On Wednesday, a more detailed press release will be issued with such data as the ages, ethnicity and professions of those who have tested positive since the pandemic began, Fankhauser said.

While cases rose during the weekend in Buffalo and Dawson counties, five other counties in the Two Rivers district — Gosper, Franklin, Harlan, Kearney and Phelps — reported no new cases. However, from July 3 through Saturday, Franklin and Kearney counties reported two new cases each, with one in Phelps, for a total of 30 new cases in the seven-county area July 3-10.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, total case numbers were 215 in Buffalo County, 877 in Dawson County, eight in Franklin County, 13 in Gosper County, one in Harlan County, 18 in Kearney County and 27 in Phelps County. There have been eight deaths in the Two Rivers district.

That equals 1,158 cases in this region since record keeping began March 20. In Nebraska, there have been 20,777 cases and 285 deaths since March 20.