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Omicron, the company, calls new COVID-19 variant’s name an ‘unfortunate coincidence’ logo 12/10/2021 Nik DeCosta-Klipa
© Charles Krupa / AP

The first Massachusetts case of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 may have been reported last weekend, but OMICRON has been in the state for years.

The company, that is.

“This just caught us by surprise, just like everybody else,” says Wayne Bishop Jr., one of roughly 20 employees in the Waltham offices of OMICRON electronics.

The international electric testing company released a statement last weekend calling the name of the new variant — suspected to be more contagious than previous strains — an “unfortunate coincidence.”

Launched in Austria in 1984, OMICRON was named by its late founder Rainer Aberer after the Greek letter, which stands for O. According to Bishop, the thinking behind the name was that it would convey a strong technical connotation, since Greek letters are used in mathematics around the world.

“That’s what we’re really in the business of doing — providing technical diagnostic test instruments,” he said in an interview earlier this week.

And while the World Health Organization began naming COVID-19 variants after letters in the Greek alphabet this past spring, Bishop said that the possibility they would soon share their name with a concerning new strain of COVID-19 wasn’t on their horizon until it was discovered in South Africa last month.

“There’s nothing we can do about this, and it’s hopefully short lived,” he said. “But we just stay focused on our mission and continue to serve our customers.”

Video: As omicron COVID-19 variant spreads, push for booster shots (WCVB Boston)


OMICRON is hardly the first company forced to share its brand with an unwanted partner during the pandemic.

The CEO of Delta somewhat famously refused to call the delta variant that has fueled surges this summer and fall by its WHO-given name. Rather, the company has stubbornly — and knowingly — stuck with its “catchy scientific” name.

“We prefer to call it the B.1.617.2 variant since that is so much more simple to say and remember…,” Dr. Henry Ting, Delta’s chief health officer, tweeted in July.

(For his part, Bishop notes that OMICRON tries to be intentional about holding true to its all-caps spelling, “a little slight difference” from the variant.)

There is also, of course, Corona, the beer, which suddenly found itself associated with corona, the virus, in the winter of 2020. However, despite a fraught tweet or two, the company ultimately did not see a noticeable impact on sales.

Unlike those customer-facing brands, OMICRON has mostly operated behind the scenes over the last several decades, developing and providing equipment to run diagnostic tests on electric utilities, like transformers and substation circuit breakers. Bishop says the company now has 1,000 employees, customers in 160 countries, and 26 international offices, including in Toronto and Houston, where their North American headquarters are based.

OMICRON been in Waltham since 2009, located in a business park off I-95 that ironically neighbors an air conditioning company named Delta-T.

Bishop isn’t worried about the coincidence affecting their company, keeping the focus on those affected by the virus and frontline workers. He noted that Delta and Corona didn’t appear to see any harm done to their brands.

“If anything it’s probably going to make more people aware of the name,” he said.

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