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Charleroi building in danger of collapse after weekend fire
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Charleroi Borough officials are considering whether they will have to demolish the remnants of an apartment building after fire destroyed the structure over the weekend, leaving it on the verge of collapsing.

The fire began inside the two-story building at 933 McKean Ave. about 10 p.m. Sunday and quickly spread through the attic, prompting the roof to collapse onto the second-floor apartments, Charleroi fire Chief Robert Whiten Jr. said.

The property owners and residents, Charles and Margaret Diaz, were able to escape uninjured, although they did not have insurance on the property and Whiten did not know if they have another place to stay. The American Red Cross posted on social media that it was assisting the couple.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to a home behind the building, although a firefighter injured her knee while battling the blaze, Whiten said.

“The guys did a good job keeping it from extending it over to that house,” Whiten said.

Whiten said he’s concerned that the structure is unstable and could collapse.

“That roof is pushing on the outside walls,” he said. “You don’t know. It could come down at any time. Something needs to be done. It needs to be taken down sooner rather later.”

Borough Manager Joe Manning visited the site Tuesday morning with the municipality’s code enforcement officer to make an initial inspection and post the building as an unsafe structure.

“It’s not a good situation,” Manning said.

Manning, a retired Washington city firefighter, said he plans to speak to Whiten to see if the borough should get an emergency condemnation order to demolish the building immediately.

“Just to be safe, we don’t want any unsafe structures where they’re endangering other structures or just a hazard to the public in general,” Manning said. “We’re looking to get that razed as soon as possible.”

Charleroi firefighters were at the scene battling the blaze for about four hours, and were assisted by 10 fire departments.

It was the second of two residential fires in Washington County over the weekend. The Red Cross posted on social media that it was helping four adults and a child who were displaced by a house fire Saturday morning in the 40 block of Knight Lane in South Franklin Township. No additional information on that fire was available.


Business
AP
Americans warier of US government surveillance: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON – As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaches, Americans increasingly balk at intrusive government surveillance in the name of national security, and only about a third believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were worth fighting, according to a new poll.

More Americans also regard the threat from domestic extremism as more worrisome than that of extremism abroad, the poll found.

The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that support for surveillance tools aimed at monitoring conversations taking place outside the country, once seen as vital in the fight against attacks, has dipped in the last decade. That’s even though international threats are again generating headlines following the chaotic end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

In particular, 46% of Americans say they oppose the U.S. government responding to threats against the nation by reading emails sent between people outside of the U.S. without a warrant, as permitted under law for purposes of foreign intelligence collection. That’s compared to just 27% who are in favor. In an AP-NORC poll conducted one decade ago, more favored than opposed the practice, 47% to 30%.

The new poll was conducted Aug. 12-16 as the Taliban were marching toward their rapid takeover of the country. Since then, Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate launched a suicide bombing that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and experts have warned about the possibility of foreign militant groups rebuilding in strength with the U.S. presence gone.

In a marked turnabout from the first years after Sept. 11, when Americans were more likely to tolerate the government’s monitoring of communications in the name of defending the homeland, the poll found bipartisan concerns about the scope of surveillance and the expansive intelligence collection tools that U.S. authorities have at their disposal.

The expansion in government eavesdropping powers over the last 20 years has coincided with a similar growth in surveillance technology across all corners of American society, including traffic cameras, smart TVs and other devices that contribute to a near-universal sense of being watched.

Gary Kieffer, a retired 80-year-old New Yorker, said he is anxious about the government’s powers.

“At what point does this work against the population in general rather than try to weed out potential saboteurs or whatever?” asked Kieffer, who is a registered Democrat. “At what point is it going to be a danger to the public rather saving them or keeping them more secure?”

“I feel like you might need it to an extent,” Kieffer said. But he added: “Who’s going to decide just how far you go to keep the country safe?”

Eric McWilliams, a 59-year-old Democrat from Whitehall, Pennsylvania, said he saw surveillance as important to keeping Americans safe.

“I wasn’t for the torture stuff, which is why they did it outside the country. I wasn’t for that,” McWilliams said, referring to the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA to question suspects. “But as far as the surveillance is concerned, you gotta watch them – or else we’re gonna die.”

Americans are also more likely to oppose government eavesdropping on calls outside the U.S. without a warrant, 44% to 28%. Another 27% hold neither opinion.

About two-thirds of Americans continue to be opposed to the possibility of warrantless U.S. government monitoring of telephone calls, emails and text messages made within the U.S. Though the National Security Agency is focused on surveillance abroad, it does have the ability to collect the communications of Americans as they’re in touch with someone outside the country who is a target of government surveillance.

About half are opposed to government monitoring of internet searches, including those by U.S. citizens, without a warrant. About a quarter are in favor and 2 in 10 hold neither opinion. Roughly half supported the practice a decade ago.

The ambivalence over government surveillance practices was laid bare last year when the Senate came one vote short of approving a proposal to prevent federal law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing information or search history without seeking a warrant. Also last year, Democrats pulled from the House floor legislation to extend certain surveillance authorities after then-President Donald Trump and Republicans turned against the measure and ensured its defeat.

Despite general surveillance concerns, six in 10 Americans support the installation of surveillance cameras in public places to monitor potentially suspicious activity – although somewhat fewer support random searches like full-body scans for people boarding commercial flights in the U.S. Just 15% support racial and ethnic profiling to decide who should get tougher screening at airports, where security was fortified following the Sept. 11 attacks.

About 7 in 10 Black Americans and Asian Americans oppose racial profiling at airports, compared with about 6 in 10 white Americans.

As the U.S. this summer was ending the two-decade war in Afghanistan, most Americans, about 6 in 10, say that conflict – along with the war in Iraq – was not worth fighting. Republicans are somewhat more likely to say the wars were worth fighting.

When it comes to threats to the homeland, Americans are more concerned about U.S.-based extremists than they are international groups. FBI Director Chris Wray has said domestic terrorism, on display during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is “metastasizing” and that the number of arrests of racially motivated extremists has skyrocketed.

According to the poll, about two-thirds of Americans say they are extremely or very concerned about the threat from extremist groups inside the U.S. By contrast, about one-half say they are extremely or very concerned about the threat from foreign-based militants.

While Republicans and Democrats are generally aligned in their concerns about international extremism, the poll shows Democrats are more likely to be concerned than Republicans about the homegrown threat, 75% to 57%.

On other top national security matters, about half of Republicans and Democrats are concerned by North Korea’s nuclear program, and about 7 in 10 say the same about the threat of cyberattacks. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats also believe that the spread of misinformation is an extremely or very concerning threat to the U.S, though Democrats are slightly more likely to say so.

But there’s a much greater partisan divide on other issues. Democrats, for instance, are far more concerned than Republicans about climate change, 83% vs. 21%. But Republicans are much more strongly concerned about illegal immigration than Democrats, by a margin of 73% to 21%.


National
AP
COVID-19 boosters are coming but who will get them and when?

COVID-19 booster shots may be coming for at least some Americans but already the Biden administration is being forced to scale back expectations – illustrating just how much important science still has to be worked out.

The initial plan was to offer Pfizer or Moderna boosters starting Sept. 20, contingent on authorization from U.S. regulators. But now administration officials acknowledge Moderna boosters probably won’t be ready by then – the Food and Drug Administration needs more evidence to judge them. Adding to the complexity, Moderna wants its booster to be half the dose of the original shots.

As for Pfizer’s booster, who really needs another dose right away isn’t a simple decision either. What’s ultimately recommended for an 80-year-old vaccinated back in December may be different than for a 35-year-old immunized in the spring – who likely would get a stronger immunity boost by waiting longer for another shot.

FDA’s scientific advisers will publicly debate Pfizer’s evidence on Sept. 17, just three days before the administration’s target. If the FDA approves another dose, then advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will recommend who should get one.

That’s tricky because while real-world data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. remain strongly protective against severe disease and death, their ability to prevent milder infection is dropping. It’s not clear how much of that is due to immunity waning or the extra-contagious delta variant – or the fact that delta struck just as much of the country dropped masks and other precautions.

When to jump to boosters “becomes a judgment,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, a former FDA vaccine chief. “And is that urgent or do we have time for the data to come in?”

Already the CDC is considering recommending the first boosters just for nursing home residents and older adults who’d be at highest risk of severe disease if their immunity wanes – and to front-line health workers who can’t come to work if they get even a mild infection.

Some other countries already have begun offering boosters amid an ethical debate about whether rich countries should get a third dose before most people in poor countries get their first round.

Here’s what we know about the biology behind booster decisions:

What do booster shots do?

Vaccines train the immune system to fight the coronavirus, including by producing antibodies that block the virus from getting inside cells. People harbor huge levels right after the shots. But just like with vaccines against other diseases, antibodies gradually drop until reaching a low maintenance level.

A booster dose revs those levels back up again.

Pfizer and Moderna have filed FDA applications for booster doses but the government will decide on extra Johnson & Johnson doses later, once that company shares its booster data with the agency.

How much protection does that translate into?

No one yet knows “the magic line” – the antibody level known as the correlate of protection below which people are at risk for even mild infection, said immunologist Ali Ellebedy of Washington University at St. Louis.

But vaccines’ main purpose is to prevent severe disease. “It’s a very high bar to really go and say we can completely block infection,” Ellebedy noted.

Plus, people’s responses to their initial vaccination vary. Younger people, for example, tend to produce more antibodies to begin with than older adults. That means months later when antibody levels have naturally declined, some people may still have enough to fend off infection while others don’t.

That initial variation is behind the FDA’s recent decision that people with severely weakened immune systems from organ transplants, cancer or other conditions need a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to have a chance at protection. In those people, it’s not a booster but an extra amount they need up-front.

Won’t antibodies just wane against after a booster?

Eventually. “We don’t know the duration of protection following the boosters,” cautioned Dr. William Moss of Johns Hopkins University.

But antibodies are only one defense. If an infection sneaks past, white blood cells called T cells help prevent serious illness by killing virus-infected cells. Another type called memory B cells jump into action to make lots of new antibodies.

Those back-up systems help explain why protection against severe COVID-19 is holding strong so far for most people. One hint of trouble: CDC has preliminary data that effectiveness against hospitalization in people 75 and older dropped slightly in July – to 80% – compared to 94% or higher for other adults.

“It’s much easier to protect against severe disease because all you need is immunologic memory. And I would imagine for a younger person that would last for a while,” maybe years, said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

What’s the best time to get a booster?

For many other types of vaccines, waiting six months for a booster is the recommended timing. The Biden administration has been planning on eight months for COVID-19 boosters.

The timing matters because the immune system gradually builds layers of protection over months. Give a booster too soon, before the immune response matures, and people can miss out on the optimal benefit, said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University.

“Sometimes waiting a little bit extra time is in fact appropriate to gain the strongest response,” he said.

Not everyone’s waiting on a final decision. For example, Colorado’s UCHealth has opened boosters to certain high-risk people first vaccinated back in December and January. San Francisco is giving some people who had a single-dose J&J vaccine a second shot from Pfizer or Moderna.

Will booster shots contain the original vaccine, or one tailored to delta?

The boosters will be an extra dose of the original vaccine. Manufacturers still are studying experimental doses tweaked to better match delta. There’s no public data yet that it’s time to make such a dramatic switch, which would take more time to roll out. And independent research, including studies from Ellebedy’s team, shows the original vaccine produces antibodies that can target delta.

“I’m very, very confident that this vaccine will work against delta with a single booster of the same vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told the Associated Press.


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