"The New War on Bad Air"

"A century ago, a well-ventilated building was considered good medicine. But by the time Covid-19 arrived, our buildings could barely breathe. How did that happen? And how do we let the fresh air back in?"

"In January 1912, in the depths of a New York City winter, an unusual new apartment complex opened on the Upper East Side.

The East River Homes were designed to help poor families fend off tuberculosis, a fearsome, airborne disease, by turning dark, airless tenements inside out. Passageways led from the street to capacious internal courtyards, where outdoor staircases wound their way up to each apartment. Floor-to-ceiling windows opened onto balconies where ailing residents could sleep. The rooftops drew tenants outside with covered porches and reclining seats, on which tuberculosis patients convalesced.

“It is believed that this type of dwelling will not only be an efficient aid in the actual treatment of cases of incipient tuberculosis, but an even greater benefit will be its influence as a measure of prevention,” wrote Dr. Henry Shively, who ran a tuberculosis clinic and developed the idea for the complex.

One of the paramount lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that fresh air matters. Although officials were initially reluctant to acknowledge that the coronavirus was airborne, it soon became clear that the virus spread easily through the air indoors. As the pandemic raged on, experts began urging building operators to crank up their ventilation systems and Americans to keep their windows open. The message: A well-ventilated building could be a bulwark against disease."

Emily Anthes reports for the New York Times June 17, 2023.

Source: E&E News, 06/20/2023