CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis-area health officials said Thursday that the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be fueling a surge in cases. The St. Louis County health department said Thursday in a news release that “the community is not as safe as it was a month ago.” Officials urged the public to avoid travel and gatherings. The county recorded 774 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the largest one-day total since early January. Another 593 new cases were recorded Tuesday. The release encouraged vaccinations, booster shots and masking.