ST. CLOUD — After a plea to city leaders to implement indoor mask mandates failed to gain traction last week, CentraCare leaders are issuing an urgent request to St. Cloud-area business leaders and residents.

CentraCare officials asked area mayors and county leaders Jan. 7 to implement a six-week mask mandate, which mayors declined to pursue even in the wake of several other Minnesota cities implementing even stricter restrictions.

Mayors from St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park did agree to jointly ask residents to wear masks when indoors and some cities and counties — including Waite Park, Benton County and Stearns County — have adopted resolutions requiring employees or visitors to wear masks in government buildings.

For CentraCare leaders, that action isn't enough. So on Thursday, the health care system released another plea via video to area businesses and residents asking people to wear masks indoors whenever they are not with members of their immediate family — and to encourage others to do so, too.

"Right now, it is climbing at a rate we have not seen before. We are seeing case positivity rates above 33%. That means one out of every three people that come into us for testing is positive," said Dr. George Morris, COVID-19 incident commander for CentraCare. "We're seeing the number of cases that we are identifying that are about two-and-a-half times as high as they were in November 2020 when we really were hit hard by the peak of this surge."

Morris said the hospital is full with patients sickened during the wave of delta cases. Now with the "omicron tsunami wave," the hospital is even more full.

"We have more patients now, more cases now, more positive rates now than we did before Christmastime," Morris said. "We need two to six weeks of intense treatment, of intense action, of intense decisions by everybody in our community and this includes leaders and policymakers."

Taking action for just two to six weeks will save lives, Morris said.

"We need masking," he said. "Yes, we can look at treatment options. Yes, we can look at promoting vaccines and boosters. But right now, we're looking for masking."