Philadelphia native Ab DeWeese Jr., would normally be here for the Neshoba County Fair this week, but the very thing that cancelled Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty for only the second time since World War II has thrust him into developing equipment that disinfects masks needed to combat the COVD-19 pandemic.

While some businesses have reopened on a limited basis, concerns about spreading the virus remain high. That means workers and customers must continue wearing masks in many instances. Those masks aren’t cheap and those that are not disposable need to be cleaned. 

Hepius Equipment has a new device that has been invented that disinfects masks allowing them to be re-useable, which can lead to some pretty hefty savings from not having to buy as many masks. 

“Originally, I was talking to John Tepper, a friend and mentor, and he talked about dipping cloth bandanas in Lysol and other extreme methods of preserving personal protection equipment,” said DeWeese, chief financial officer and one of the founders of Dallas-based Hepius. “And then he asked, ‘Why aren’t they using ultraviolet light to disinfect, since it’s been the standard way for over 100 years to disinfect and sterilize things?’ He was motivated enough to go write the FDA asking about it.” 

Tepper was on the couch one night back in March when he saw the news about nurses not having enough masks to go around, and couldn’t believe they hadn’t tried using ultraviolet light as a way to reuse masks and cut down costs of having to buy more. 

“Ultraviolet light is a very effective way of disabling pathogens such as bacteria and viruses,” Tepper said. “It inactivates the DNA and RNA of most viruses and bacteria so they can’t reproduce. With this device, you can disinfect up to four N-95 masks at once and in just a few minutes. It’s also compatible with other similar-sized masks and personal protection equipment.”

According to DeWeese, you can’t just use any ultraviolet light or a black light you find in the store.  “It’s a very specific wavelength of UV light that is absorbed by genetic material.  You have to use 254 nanometer light at the right energy dose to effectively disinfect.  It’s important that people understand they can’t just go buy any UV light in the store and hope to disinfect items.  The same wavelength of light that hurts pathogens is also harmful to human skin and eyes.  That is why our device shuts off when you open the door.”

Tepper believes these devices will save a lot of money, which is the biggest purpose, and a newer second version of the device that will be cheaper is currently in the works. 

“I think masks are going to be part of this landscape for a long time to come, and if you’re using one-time-use masks and throwing them away, that isn’t very environmentally friendly,” he said. “Reusing them on a regular basis means fewer trees cut down and a greener approach.”   

DeWeese said it was then that he had the idea to create a business around decontaminating medical equipment. He got on Google and found there was no competition to the business idea. He contacted people in the local hospital industry in Dallas and got connected with Parkland Hospital 

“Parkland was looking for decontamination methods to reuse their masks. We told them what we had in mind, created the design for the device, and made sure it was something we could produce very quickly,” he said. “We needed to meet the demand of a large marketplace, and Parkland really liked our highly distributed solution.” 

The device is around the size of a small desktop printer and fits on a countertop. It can be deployed throughout a hospital and each nurse’s station can have one. 

“We went from an idea on the back of a napkin to full-scale production in five weeks,” DeWeese said. “There was a dramatic sense of urgency that was communicated to us from a lot of hospitals, and how urgently they needed something to be able to conserve their very limited supply of N-95 masks. We were able to scale up very quickly and meet that demand. We can make it where instead of just one business reopening, multiple businesses can reopen.”  

DeWeese said if a business owner is interested in buying this device to help your business, they can visit, and you can call him at 817-773-2619 to get the 39350 discount. 

“Use the code ‘NoFair’ if you’re talking to my sales team, that way it’ll make its way back to me and I’ll know it’s a Mississippi connection,” he said. 

DeWeese is going to miss the Fair, but he’s comfortable with the Fair Board’s decision to cancel.

“I love the Fair and will miss it this year,” he said. “My kids miss it too. I’m proud of NCF leadership for making the tough call to cancel the Fair. It’s the right decision. The Fair is about gathering with loved ones, especially grandparents and older aunts and uncles. It’s about cramming 30 people into a small cabin. It’s about being close and being together.”

Unfortunately, those wonderful aspects of the Fair conflict with the reality we find ourselves living through right now, he said. “Cover your face with a mask; wash your hands; stay apart and don’t congregate. If we all do these things we can go to the Fair next year. If we can’t temporarily do these things, we will miss more than one Fair.”

DeWeese is the son of Ann and the late Ab DeWeese.