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Regional Interests

News Brief: Condo Collapse, Delta Variant, NYC Mayoral Primary Result

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The confirmed death toll from a collapsed condo in Florida is now 36.

NOEL KING, HOST:

For two weeks now, officials have given the public two numbers - the number of people confirmed dead and the number of people still missing. Now those officials say they're actually not sure how many people are missing.

FADEL: For more, we're going to NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Greg, what's changed? Why are officials now saying they're not sure how many people are still missing?

ALLEN: Well, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says detectives have been going through a list that was compiled of all the people who were reported missing. Right now, she says, there's 109 names on that list.

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DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: This list includes many reports that were received with partial or incomplete information, sometimes only a name, sometimes no other identifying information and not even a return phone number for us to follow up.

ALLEN: Levine Cava said yesterday the number of missing people detectives now believe were in the building when it was collapsed was closer to 70 than to 109.

FADEL: OK, so they're unsure about the numbers, but still a lot of people are unaccounted for, so it sounds like this effort to find people will go on for a while. Are officials still calling this a search and rescue effort?

ALLEN: Yes, they are still calling it that. But rescue workers have said for some time that they haven't seen any signs that there could be any possible survivors. Miami-Dade's mayor says she believes families waiting for word of their loved ones are prepared when the search for survivors officially ends and crews transition on to the recovery phase. There's still an unimaginable mountain of crumbled concrete, though, that has to be sifted through and removed. Workers are looking for bodies but also personal belongings that are logged for possible return to families. Officials say the debris being removed is being treated as evidence. It's being taken to another site where it's being sorted, and relevant material will be stored in a warehouse where it's going to be available to investigators then looking into what happened here.

FADEL: OK, so speaking of investigators, what's the status of the investigation into why this building collapsed?

ALLEN: Well, a team from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency, is tagging evidence that's being gathered at the site. They've used computer-based imaging to create a 3D model of the pile of rubble and of the remaining building before it was demolished. Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez says his detectives on site are treating it like a crime scene.

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FREDDY RAMIREZ: We're collecting evidence with our partners, with NIST. Our state attorney's office is embedded with us as well. But right now, we're in a search and rescue mode. It's an active investigation. And we're focused right now - our primary goal right now is to bring closure to the families.

ALLEN: You know, this federal NIST investigation may take years to complete and come up with recommendations. More immediately, a local grand jury will likely take up the matter. Some lawsuits have already been filed. Miami-Dade is convening an expert panel also to examine what went wrong and to make recommendations on how to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again.

FADEL: So a lot going on, search and rescue, investigations, and as all this is happening, funerals have begun for some of the victims who've been recovered, right?

ALLEN: Yes. There were funerals yesterday in Miami Beach and in Brooklyn for people killed in the building collapse. Hundreds of mourners paid their respects to Tzvi and Ingrid Ainsworth in Brooklyn. And a family of four - Marcus Guara and his wife Ana and daughters Lucia and Emma - were remembered in a service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Miami Beach. It was a sad day, and there's going to be many more of these to come as this search for victims continues.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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FADEL: The Delta variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in the U.S., according to a new estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

KING: Yes, and in the meantime, Israel's health ministry offers some worrying news. It says over the past month, there's been a, quote, "marked decline" in the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine that appears to coincide with the spread of the Delta variant.

FADEL: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now to explain. Good morning, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Rob, just how widespread is the Delta variant in the U.S. right now?

STEIN: The CDC now estimates that Delta is causing more than 51% of new infections. And in some parts of the country, it's causing more than 80% of new infections in some Midwestern states like Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.

FADEL: OK, that sounds especially concerning in light of the news from Israel. What are the Israelis saying?

STEIN: The Israeli Ministry of Health issued a brief statement that says the power of the Pfizer vaccine to protect people from getting infected or getting mildly or moderately ill has dropped over the last month as the Delta virus has taken over in that country from somewhere in the 90s to just 64%. So that would clearly raise concerns about that vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which is very similar.

FADEL: OK, how worried are public health experts about this?

STEIN: You know, it depends who you talk to. Dr. Anthony Fauci told me he's just not sure what to make of the Israeli report.

ANTHONY FAUCI: We don't have enough data or enough numbers to know what that means, Rob. So it could mean that they just are testing a heck of a lot more people who are asymptomatically infected and they're seeing a larger percentage of people infected, hence a diminution in the efficacy of the vaccine.

STEIN: In other words, they're just testing more people, which would make it look like the vaccine isn't working as well. So it could be a false alarm, but if it's real, it could be because the Delta variant is better at outsmarting the vaccines or maybe the immunity from the vaccines is starting to wear off. I talked about this with Dr. Paul Offit at the University of Pennsylvania.

PAUL OFFIT: I think what you're seeing are two things in Israel. One is that vaccines over time like this vaccine will start to not be as good at protecting against mild disease. And, two, I think that the variants, now the Delta variant, are somewhat more resistant than to protection against mild disease than, say, the original variant that came out of China.

STEIN: But that remains an open question. In fact, some research indicates that protection from the vaccines could be pretty long lasting.

FADEL: OK, so what's the takeaway here for the rest of us if we're vaccinated, if we're not vaccinated?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. So first of all, this needs to be confirmed. But even if it's true, the Israelis say the vaccination looks extremely good at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. And that's obviously the most important thing. Here's John Moore at Weill Cornell Medicine.

JOHN MOORE: There's a big difference between a reduction in efficacy for mild COVID and a reduction in protection against disease and death. Having a mild infection that you recover from at home is not good but is a damn sight better than going into the ICU and not coming out of it. No one's pretending that any decrease in vaccine efficacy is a good thing, but it could be a lot worse.

STEIN: But, you know, Moore and others stress that there are still lots of unvaccinated people in the U.S. and they remain vulnerable, especially now that the Delta's dominant. So the most important thing is to vaccinate more people to protect them and keep even more dangerous mutants from evolving.

FADEL: Thanks. That's NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein. Thank you.

STEIN: You bet.

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FADEL: While he's not quite the new mayor of New York, Eric Adams is one step closer.

KING: The AP declared Adams the winner of the Democratic primary last night. He's a familiar face and a familiar name to many New Yorkers, a former police captain and the Brooklyn borough president. He is also now the clear favorite in the general election because Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1 in New York City.

FADEL: For more on the race, let's turn to Wall Street Journal reporter Katie Honan in New York. She covers city hall and joins us now. Good morning, Katie.

KATIE HONAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So, Katie, what can you tell us about Eric Adams and the campaign he ran?

HONAN: So Eric Adams, as you noted, he's been around New York City in the public for a long time. He was a police captain, but as a police officer, he worked on a lot of internal reforms. He was sort of an antagonistical (ph) member of the NYPD in pushing for internal reforms, especially around police brutality and some of the issues with the NYPD. He's been the Brooklyn borough president for two years. So he's been a very public person. And the campaign he ran, you know, he says he ran as the blue-collar candidate. He had a lot of labor support. He had a pretty broad coalition of people from around the city backing him and his campaign. And that's what he sort of contributed to his victory here. And that is what will likely propel him to the victory in November.

FADEL: How are New Yorkers reacting?

HONAN: You know, I think a lot of New Yorkers are still confused by this whole weekslong process, and it was a little unclear. You know, these are not officially certified yet. So when the AP called it, I saw a lot of people, like, whoa, whoa, wait, that's it? You know, I think there was - especially for supporters of Kathryn Garcia, who was in second place behind him, and Maya Wiley, there was some hope that they could pull it off with the absentee ballots. But certainly Adams supporters are very, very happy for this and excited about what's next.

FADEL: Now, if he becomes mayor, he'll tackle some of the - he'll have to tackle some of the city's biggest issues - rising crime, homelessness. How will he approach those?

HONAN: Adams has noted - as the only candidate who was a police officer, he has said he's the only one with this experience of actually understanding crime, whether it's the understanding of how guns get on the city streets, what to do to get them off the streets. He's supported the bringing back of a antigun and anticrime street unit that some people have seen as controversial. But he has said, look, that's the only way to get guns off the street, targeting crime where you know the crime is. He's supported some version of stop and frisk, which has also been controversial. But he said when you're out in the street policing, that is how you get guns and violent criminals off the city streets. And as for homelessness, he's called for the creation of more affordable housing, more vouchers for homeless people to get into apartments and the creation of homes and affordable units in parts of the city, particularly wealthier parts that do not generally have affordable housing.

FADEL: Now, he's promised to strike a balance between dealing with crime and stopping racial injustice in policing. What does that look like to him?

HONAN: So one big part of his life story is he was beaten by police and arrested as a teen. And he has used that story to propel him to push for reform. And it's been a big part of his mayoral campaign. So he's tried to say, look, I'm a Black man in New York City. I've experienced police brutality, but I've also been a police officer. So I know what it takes to create a more just police department and stop crime.

FADEL: Wall Street Journal reporter Katie Honan, thanks.

HONAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.