CDC says schools can reopen even if teachers aren’t vaccinated; Dr. Anthony Fauci warns against Super Bowl parties. Latest COVID-19 updates.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning America to “just lay low” rather than gathering for Super Bowl parties on Sunday.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to host watch parties because of the possibility that guests could be infected with the coronavirus and sicken others.

The NFL has capped attendance for the game in Tampa at 22,000, citing the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates. Fauci says the best thing people can do is watch the game on TV at home with the people in your household.

“You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” he told NBC’s “Today” show. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

Meanwhile, the United States topped 450,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. The U.S. hit its latest sad marker less than two months after reaching 300,000 deaths in December; the first 150,000 U.S. deaths, by comparison, took six months.

COVID-19 has killed more than 450,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

In the headlines:

►The Kansas health department says the more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Great Britain has arrived in the state.

►Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated for the coronavirus. She cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.

►A COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca appears to provide strong protection three months after just one dose while also curbing spread of infections, researchers said Wednesday.

►San Francisco has taken a dramatic step in its effort to get kids back in public schools, suing its own school district to try to force the reopening of classrooms. The lawsuit is the first of its kind in California and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end online learning.

►Yankee Stadium will open as a COVID-19 mass vaccination site starting Friday to serve residents of the Bronx in an effort to bolster equity in New York’s vaccine distribution, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement Wednesday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 26.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 450,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 104.3 million cases and 2.26 million deaths. More than 55.9 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 33.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Why the lack of racial data around COVID-19 vaccines is a ‘massive barrier’ to better distribution across the U.S. Read the full story.

Eileen Kane, right, receives her first COVID-19 vaccination from Nathaly Castillo of the Illinois National Guard on Wednesday at Triton College in River Grove, Ill.

Some people are getting COVID-19 vaccines before it’s their turn

Bribing doctors. Circulating vaccination appointment codes. Chartering planes and impersonating essential workers.

More than a month since the U.S. first began administering COVID-19 vaccines, many people who were not supposed to be first in line have received vaccinations. Anecdotal reports suggest some people have deliberately leveraged widespread vulnerabilities in the distribution process to acquire vaccine. Others were just in the right place at the right time.

“There’s dozens and dozens of these stories, and they really show that the rollout was a complete disaster in terms of selling fairness,” said Arthur Caplan, who heads the medical ethics division at the NYU School of Medicine. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have consensus (on who should go first). We didn’t pay attention to logistics, and that drove distribution, not rules.” Read more here.

CDC chief: New cases, hospitalizations in a ‘consistent downward trajectory’

New infections and hospital admissions continue to decrease and the U.S. now appears to be in a consistent downward trajectory for both, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday. But she warned that the proliferation of variants could reverse those trends. Walensky also acknowledged that daily deaths continue to edge higher.

“While deaths have continued to increase, the pace appears to be slowing,” she said. “The recent decline in hospitalizations gives us hope that the number of deaths should start to decrease in coming weeks.”

For the first time since Nov. 13, the United States has reported fewer than 1 million new coronavirus cases over a seven-day period. The weekly total peaked at more than 1.7 million a few weeks ago. Johns Hopkins University data shows 989,974 new cases in the seven-day period ending Tuesday. Still, at that pace, 98 Americans were reported positive every minute.

AstraZeneca COVID vaccine: New study vindicates delaying 2nd dose, UK says

A COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca appears to provide strong protection three months after just one dose while also curbing spread of infections, researchers said Wednesday.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study supports a strategy of delaying the second shot so more first doses can be delivered to more people. Researchers also found a 67% reduction in positive “swabs” among those vaccinated – crucial news because if no virus is present, the virus can’t spread.

AstraZeneca has not yet applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in the U.S. Just two vaccines, by Pfizer-BioNTech and by Moderna, have been authorized in the U.S., and both require a second dose.

Dr. Anthony Fauci lauded the British researchers for responding to their data but said the U.S. will continue to recommend that Pfizer booster shots be given about 21 days after the initial shot, Moderna boosters about 28 days after.

“We also are going very much by the data and science that has emanated out of very large clinical trials,” Fauci said. “We feel strongly that we will go by the science, which dictated for us the optimal way for us to get the 94-to-95 percent response.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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