America’s ambivalence about wearing masks has played a part in its COVID-19 woes. But there’s another factor beginning to receive a closer look as the virus tears through some of the hottest parts of the United States: Our zealous — and rather unusual — insistence on living and working in spaces that are largely sealed off from the outdoors.

It wasn’t always so. In the 19th century, a growing number of people lived and worked in cramped, airless quarters in the nation’s growing cities. As disease ran rampant, the solution was simple: better ventilation. A growing number of medical professionals prescribed “natural disinfectants” — fresh air and sunshine — to counter the threat of disease.

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