Before welcoming fans back to the Bank of America Stadium Sunday, the Carolina Panthers have taken a number of COVID-19 precautions – including deploying three $125,000 “coronavirus-killing” robots.
The Panthers are the country’s first professional football team to use the robot, according to maker Xenex, Inc.
The Xenex LightStrike robot is a powerful xenon UV-ray device. The device launched in 2011 and had been used primarily in hospitals and other health care facilities, including Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, before the coronavirus pandemic.
During the pandemic, there’s been almost six times the demand for the robots, Xenex CEO Morris Miller said.
“The whole idea of disinfection is becoming the norm in the world,” Miller said in a statement. “Wearing masks is normal and expecting a disinfected environment when you go into a residence, a hotel, or an NFL stadium — that’s what the public demands now.”
The Panthers’ season started with an empty stadium and a loss against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 13.
On Sept. 22, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced he’d loosen COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the Panthers to bring back a limited number of fans. Large venues with a seating capacity of more than 10,000 people can operate at 7% capacity.
Bank of America Stadium seats 74,867 people, allowing the Panthers roughly 5,240 fans into the stadium for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers haven’t said exactly how many people they’ll allow in on Sunday, but single-game tickets are available for the game and other home games in the 100 and 200 levels.
How it works
The LightStrike robot is different from the UV-light wands and lamps you might seen in the store, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Mark Stibich told The Observer.
For one thing, it’s roughly 4,000 times more intense than other powerful UV-light products.
And there are many different types of UV light, Stibich said. The Xenex robot produces “every single spectrum,” he said. “So we have multiple different ways of attacking an organism, a virus or bacteria.”
The robot uses xenon, a noble gas, to produce the high intensity UV light that breaks down bacteria and viruses. Many other UV-lights use mercury — but xenon is stronger and won’t leave behind chemical residue, Stibich said.
The robot, used in hospitals to kill bacteria and viruses like MRSA and C. diff, can destroy the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces in two minutes, according to Xenex.
Xenex trained Panthers employees to use the device, CEO Miller told The Observer. It’s moved by the trained technicians into a room, and turned on. The robot’s lamp emits the UV light while moving up and down to ensure full-coverage throughout the room.
The company tracks use of the robots — and throughout the world, a room is disinfected with the robot roughly every 4.2 seconds on average, Miller told The Observer.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the robot was used in an airport for the first time at San Antonio International Airport in Texas, and in a school district in New Mexico.
Panthers employees are using the robot in enclosed areas like locker rooms, meeting rooms, offices, restrooms, suites and work-out areas, according to Panthers Director of Security and Infection Control officer Eddie Levins. That doesn’t include other areas in the stadium like the concourse, where other cleaning methods are used, Levins said.
The Panthers needed to find the best disinfectant system to make sure players, staff and fans were protected, Levins told The Observer. The team followed in the footsteps of hospital systems — many of which use UV-light technology.
“The investment made into this type of technology was very significant,” Levins said. “But it does give people a sense that (the Panthers are) willing to go to the steps to make sure this place is clean. … So fast forward to today, we’re looking to get fans back in the building. They’ve got to feel like they are coming into a safe place.”
The Xenex robot isn’t the only protection for Panthers players, staff and fans. Charlotte-based manufacturing company Honeywell announced a partnership with the team Tuesday.
Honeywell and the team will offer individual personal protective equipment packs for fans and staff — and Honeywell will monitor air quality within the stadium in real-time, according to a release from the Panthers.
The PPE pack will include masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, according to the Panthers statement.
“We’re all excited to bring back a bit of ‘normal’ and we’re pleased to be able to do that through our partnership with the Carolina Panthers for the 2020 NFL season,” Honeywell senior vice president and chief commercial officer Jeff Kimbell said in a statement. “We get to not only to support our hometown team, but also to provide a safer environment and peace of mind for the players, patrons and staff that are eager to return to home games with cheering fans.”