Wheeler said he and his technicians have consulted with physicians at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals, along with experts at Harvard and M.I.T. to expeditiously produce the best possible masks.
They have retrofitted some machinery and fabrics from their sneaker production, but are also working with new materials, including nonwoven, melt-blown fabrics. Those could help New Balance to provide N95 masks, which block 95 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns or larger, and can be used in emergency rooms.
In Charlotte, N.C., TheMagic5, a fairly new company that produces goggles for competitive swimmers, has been sending custom-built goggles at cost ($15) to several dozen emergency medical workers, nurses and doctors in New York after they send the company scans of their faces. The project is in the early stages, but the initial testing suggests the goggles can be worn by health care professionals for long stretches without pain, adjustment or fogging up.
“I was thinking, how bad would I feel if we didn’t help, if we didn’t even test whether they could work,” said Rasmus Barfred, a triathlete and one of the company’s founders, who lives in New York. “I think a lot of people in sports think that way, too.”
While much of the sports world has focused on producing gear that protects medical personnel, the Formula One effort, nicknamed Project Pitlane, is aimed at helping patients. Covid-19 can cause severe breathing difficulty in its worst cases, but the CPAP machines could help keep people off the ventilators, which are in short supply.
According to Shipley, the U.C.L. medical engineer, data from Italy and China shows that patients who use CPAP machines soon after infection are 50 to 60 percent less likely to need a more invasive ventilator, which also requires sedation.