ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page warned area residents Monday that the county is in “crisis mode” as COVID-19 cases keep rising and hospitals strain to treat new patients.

Page said area hospitals could run out of intensive care beds sometime this week and the National Guard could be asked to help with response to the pandemic.

“We are in a crisis mode and the virus is winning,” Page said.

On Sunday, the St. Louis region had 994 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with an average of 660 new cases per day. Area hospitals were using 77% of the total staffed beds and 89% of their intensive care beds, according to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

Statewide, Missouri reported 2,498 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Friday, with 27% of inpatient beds still available, the latest hospitalization data available on the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

Missouri has reported 299,762 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,829 deaths since the pandemic began.

The Mercy hospital system announced Monday that it will begin treating some patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms at home through its Mercy COVID Care @ Home unit to free more hospital beds.

Mercy said in a news release that it will offer virtual monitoring for those who may need low-flow rates of oxygen. The virtual care team will monitor patients and adjust oxygen levels as needed. If a patient’s symptoms worsen, a Mercy Virtual team member an emergency medicine physician will determine the level of care needed, which could include evaluation in an outpatient clinic or going to the hospital.

“We have learned that not all patients who were admitted at the onset of COVID-19 need to be hospitalized,” said Dr. Carter Fenton, medical director of Mercy Virtual vAcute. “By caring for select patients at home, with ongoing monitoring and management, we can reserve the hospital beds for those with more serious disease symptoms.”

Page pleaded with residents to follow safety protocols to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

He said it was too early to tell if restrictions imposed two weeks ago, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining and limits to outdoor dining, are working. The restrictions are scheduled to end Dec. 15, but Page said they could be extended if needed.

“These next few weeks are going to test everyone’s mettle, everyone in the community,” he said. “We don’t want anymore restrictions, but we also don’t want our hospitals to be in a position of choosing who gets care.”

The strain on St. Louis-area hospitals prompted one doctor to start a petition to ask Gov. Mike Parson to impose a statewide ban, a move the Republican governor has consistently refused to consider.

Dr. Micah Luderer, an internal medicine resident at Barnes Jewish Hospital, said he started the petition after treating COVID-19 patients and watching his fellow doctors and nurses work to exhaustion, KMOV reported.

“We’re drowning at the hospital,” Luderer said. “People are dying every day from COVID-19 and we’re not doing everything in our power to stop the virus.”

Missouri is one of 13 states without a mask mandate. Parson has said since the beginning of the pandemic that he favors allowing county officials to decide what restrictions should be imposed.

Luderer's petition had more than 4,100 signatures on Monday. Luderer said he has emailed the 10 largest colleges and universities in Missouri asking for faculty and students to sign it. He plans to submit the petition to the governor’s office this week.