ST. CLOUD — St. Cloud-area leaders are rejecting a plea from the area's largest health care system to implement a mask mandate amid a staggering surge in COVID-19 cases.

CentraCare officials asked area mayors and county leaders on Friday to implement a six-week mask mandate, which several mayors declined to support, according to St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis.

"I do not believe that's the city's role," Kleis said of mask mandates at the City Council meeting Monday. Instead, Kleis and the mayors of Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park are "jointly asking our residents when indoors and when not being able to be socially distanced to wear a mask.

"We're also asking our residents to adhere to the guidelines that the hospital's put out," Kleis added. "We recommend these things. We're not mandating them."

Those recommendations include wearing a mask when around others, eliminating interactions with those outside a person's home or work group, handwashing, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated.

"The current COVID surge is putting a tremendous amount of pressure not only on our local health care system — that's an important piece — but it's also putting a lot of pressure on our workforce," Kleis said. "We're experiencing that ourselves as a city. We're still providing services and we are still doing what we can but we're down 33 individuals ... and two weeks ago we were [down] zero."

Kleis said CentraCare leaders, including Chief Executive Ken Holmen and COVID-19 Incident Commander George Morris, told city and county leaders the next two weeks are critical for helping stop the spread of the omicron variant, which is affecting younger children more frequently and severely than prior variants and causing shortages among health care workers.

The three-day positivity rate of those being tested for COVID-19 at CentraCare facilities was 49.7% as of Jan. 6. At St. Cloud Hospital, 70% of intensive care beds are filled with COVID patients. Systemwide, 77% of all patients being treated for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

On Monday, CentraCare began requiring all patients and visitors ages 2 and older to wear medical-grade masks. The organization also tightened visitor restrictions to better protect patients, visitors and staff.

"We are not asking for a shutdown — what we are trying to avoid is a 'sick down' where there aren't enough people to take care of those who are sick," CentraCare officials said in a Friday Facebook post. "Your actions have an impact. The omicron variant is highly contagious and the number of people getting sick is increasing every day by numbers we haven't seen before."