The world has been concerned for weeks about the mysterious outbreak that’s made tens of thousands of people sick. It’s been referred to mostly as “coronavirus” or “the Wu Flu,” which are, respectively, woefully general (there are several kinds of coronavirus, and sometimes all they cause is a cold) and unfair to folks who live in Wuhan, China, where the virus was discovered. Now the illness has an official name: “Covid-19.” It’s an abbreviation for “coronavirus disease 2019.” The World Health Organization’s director-general explained in a media briefing Tuesday how careful they had to be when picking a moniker: “We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.”
“Covid” might not refer to all those things, but it does refer to a company in Tempe, Arizona. To figure out what kind of havoc the WHO had accidentally wreaked, we spoke to that other Covid’s president and CEO, Norm Carson. Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.
Slate: What’s your day been like?
Norm Carson: We are actually at a trade show in Amsterdam. We make high-quality audiovisual wall plates and cables, and we’re currently at a big audiovisual show, one of the biggest in the world. We found out in the middle of the day, which was extremely surprising.
What went through your head when you found out?
I don’t know if anyone—what do you say to that kind of thing? It’s a little surreal.
Covid’s been in business for about 40 years. We have very high-quality products, we have very good relationships with our customers, we’re very good at what we do. I guess I don’t have concern that people are going to be confused and think that our company is associated with this. Look, we’ve worked really hard to build this company into a good company and have a good name and brand. I don’t think anyone would like to have their name associated with a worldwide pandemic like this.
Has your web traffic been going crazy today?
I’ve heard from back in Arizona that yes, there’s a lot of activity going on. At the office they’re getting a lot of calls.
Why is the company’s name “Covid”?
Going on 40 years ago, the original name of the company was “Vid Co.” At the time, they found out there were some other Vid Co’s in the country, so they changed the name to Covid.
One thing that folks at our office have been remarking on is that “covid” sounds sort of like “corvid,” like the bird family that crows are part of.
No one has said that ever to me.
Well, my editor used to work at a bird magazine. If I needed an HDMI cable, could I buy one from you?
We sell through systems integrators across the country and across the world. They go and do these very high-end installations in different schools and museums and hospitals and training rooms and boardrooms. Anywhere you can think of these big displays and audio systems, they could use our cables, connectors, wall plates, and connectivity products to hook them all up. It’s more commercial.
Are there any plans to change your name?
Not at all. It’s unfortunate. Today maybe some people will think we’re linked to this. But—I take that back. I don’t think anyone who knows Covid will associate us with this.
It feels like it would be worse if you sold medical supplies or were related to health care. Cables seem far afield.
Most of our customers are repeat customers. I’ve been dealing with some of the customers since I’ve started, over 20 years ago—the same people.