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Medline Distributes Machines To Help Purify Air In Fight Against COVID-19

NORTHFIELD, Ill. (CBS) -- By now, you've seen videos of electrostatic sprayers in action and images of empty shelves where disinfectant is sold out.

So it seems like we have surface cleaning down pat. But what about the air - where the coronavirus is more likely to cling?

CBS 2's Lauren Victory visited one suburban company that is hoping their machines will help us breathe easier when things open up again.

It has been almost a year since a soul has eaten at the break room tables at Medline in Northfield. You can hear a pin drop.

But you can also hear the sound of the future, as product Manager Alexa Smith demonstrates Medline's S400.

It's like a high-tech air purifier, and colleges are going crazy for it. A large university on the East Coast is using nearly 100 of them in lecture halls.

And it's not noisy either. When Victory talked with Smith right next to it, they could hear each other.

So imagine a conversation in your favorite coffee shop or store with one running.

The disinfecting focus for the S400 is not on what we're touching, but what we're breathing. Air gets trapped, and then zapped with ultraviolet light.

"After the air comes in, it's killing it in a very contained chamber, so people can be in the room just like any other ordinary filter," said Medline Vice President of Environmental Services Megan Henken.

Henken has been working on the combo technology since before the pandemic.

She said they went from: "It's OK if we get to this is a year or two years.,' to, 'Holy cow! We have to solve this problem right now!'"

The Solaris Lytbot is also paving the path for public hangouts, but requires everyone evacuate. The robot can rotate in all directions with high-powered pathogen-killing bursts.

Why would a robot be needed in addition to regular cleaning? There's a simple answer.

"So the thing that's always scary with people cleaning is they're people," Henken said.

The flashes eliminate human errors, she said. The innovation is counting several hospitals and some universities as current customers.

But while it may look like an office rave, don't party just yet.

"Nothing is going to get us back to complete freedom, to normal life," said Dr. Emily Landon, Chief Epidemiologist at UChicago Medicine.

Landon, our independent expert, applauds these tech advances with caution

"It may be extremely effective for a certain distance, but you have to make sure you are choosing devices that are rated for the space that you have," she said.

Medline agrees. The COVID-fighting machines only work if used correctly.

Dr. Landon further said wearing a mask is still a must, even with the use of these air-disinfecting devices.

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