What Color is Your COVID?

Rick Lesaar
6 min readMar 27

Fact: Viruses have no color.

Common Misconception: The Coronavirus is red.

The COVID virus (SARS-CoV-2) has no color. Nor for that matter do any other viruses. Here’s why:

First, color is not an inherent quality of any object, like its mass or its shape. In other words, no object actually has color, it’s just that humans perceive color. If a human is not looking at an apple, an elephant, or a virus, it has no color. Our eyes interpret light that reflects or bounces off an object as color. One wavelength of light we see as green, another as purple, etc. But in this case, it truly is all just in our head. Our brain ‘assigns’ perceived colors to light of various wavelengths.

Second, in order to reflect light, an object has to be at least as large as the wavelength of light hitting it. If not, the wave simply passes over the object and does not reflect back, in this instance back to our eyes. The Coronavirus is somewhere between 50–140 nm in length, where an nm is a nanometer or one billionth of a meter. Visible light ranges from 380 nm (violet) to 750 nm (red). So light waves are simply too large to reflect off a virus. [ 1 ]

But if that’s the case, why do most people believe the COVID virus has color and why do most of those believe that color is red? And how are deceptive advertisers taking advantage of that?

I conducted a simple scan, not a scientific survey (methodology detailed below), that might suggest what color people in different countries believe SARS-CoV-2 to be. Here are the results:

Relative color predominance of coronavirus images in different countries.

In each of these nine countries, a Google image search of the term “coronavirus” returned a clear majority of red images. These ranged from 40% of images in the US to 26% in Japan, but in each case, red was the clear favorite. Why this is so is anybody’s guess. It could be that red is associated with menace, danger, or evil –all of which the virus certainly is– though those associations are far from universal. In Japan, for example, red is actually thought to repel evil. [ 2 ] Or maybe the graphic artists who released some…

Rick Lesaar

Author of www.healthandcommunications.com on the intersection of health and communications. Get in touch at rlesaar@mac.com.