Adapting to a Pandemic: Assistance from the World of Sports

In the wake of SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19, various sporting goods equipment and apparel manufactures have made honorable transitions to providing Personal Protective Equipment to make up for the shortfalls of supplies plaguing the United States and other parts of the world. In many cases, these transitions are a necessity to keep companies alive as the sports they previously equipped are in an unknown free-fall.

Last month in London, a group of caregivers gathered to discuss the questions that everyone is asking, “How can we help?” Enter Tim Baker, a UCL professor who was a former race car engineer. Baker knew that the Formula One teams were the perfect place to start since they were well trained in the art of shaving milliseconds off of race times by producing the highest quality machinery for the races.

Within 10 days, members of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team had produced a new design for a CPAP machine that could be rapidly produced.

“We are approaching 200 already in circulation, and we have the go-ahead to produce 300 a day for a week and then 1,000 every day.”

– Tim Baker

In the U.S, various hockey, lacrosse, and even swim companies have transitioned their efforts to helping supply the front-line healthcare workers. Hockey and lacrosse gear company, Bauer and their sister companies, Cascade and Maverick, are producing larger plastic face shields that are used to protect healthcare workers against splattered droplets that could spread the virus.

Image Source – Bauer

“Our company culture is an athletic mind-set, Our employees viewed this challenge of beating this virus like beating a competitor.”

– Ed Kinnaly, Chief Executive of Bauer hockey equipment

These companies have repurposed their factory floors, put to use their materials and industry know-how to not only aid in providing PPE but to provide meaningful occupation to their employees during a time of widespread unemployment from the various shutdowns.

Cascade and Maverik, a Liverpool, New York based company which initially laid off its workers, has now converted its hockey skates, helmets, face shields, and lacrosse equipment factory into a full-blown PPE manufacturing effort. They are producing larger plastic face shields, similar to welding masks, that increase the surface of protection against liquid or vapor spread. Kinnaly reported that Bauer was able to produce 3,000 units per week to start and believes that by the end of April that will be at 70,000 units per week.

The transition has allowed these companies to keep employees working and to avoid to increasing the influx of unemployment claims. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the number of unemployed persons rose by 1.4 million in March alone.

Image Source – via U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

G-Form, a Rhode Island protective pad company which normally makes pads for soccer players, mountain bikers, and dozens of major league baseball players, has also transitioned their manufacturing to face shield production. The decision to make the switch has allowed them to re-employee 70 employees. In just two weeks, G-Form was producing 20,000 face shields a day.

Glen Giovanucci, the CEO of G-Form, is a former hockey player and assistant coach. He explained that when the demand from large retail stores, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, disappeared overnight, he needed to make a change to quickly prevent his company from closing its doors. After the transition, Giovanucci said that they can barely keep up with the demand.

But the effort does not stop there, New Balance, primarily an athletic apparel and shoe company, has made the shift to include production of cloth face masks for doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff.

“I’m super proud of this team, They’ve put in 18- to 20-hour days solely because the passion is there to fight the battle, and we have the capability.”

– Dave Wheeler, Executive Vice President at New Balance.

Even individual professional teams are chipping in. The New England Patriots flew one of its team jets to China to secure 1.2 million N95 protective masks for healthcare workers in the United States.

Fanatics, an apparel company out of Easton, Pennsylvania, has adapted their uniform making skills to make fabric masks and gowns. ESPN reported that Fanatics began producing the masks and gowns on April 1st and is now making close to 10,000 a day. Fanatics partnered with local hospital St. Luke’s in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as well as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, to help distribute their new PPE inventory.

Image source – Twitter

TheMagic5, a newer company that specializes in producing custom swim goggles, has been sending custom-made goggles for $15 dollars to nurses and doctors in New York. The company uses a face scan to provide for custom measurements to ensure an ideal fit that allows healthcare workers to wear the goggles for extended periods of time with little discomfort, anti-fogging, and no need for constant adjustment.

Even Nike is joining the movement and has partnered with Oregon Health & Safety Science University to develop new face-shield prototypes. Nike CEO, John Donahue said that they needed to do their part and with their extensive resources they began working on new face-shield solutions.

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