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Leading Communications to Support COVID-19 Testing Efforts: Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce


Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for guidance, criteria and the demand for COVID-19 testing continuously evolved. With several organizations contributing to Ottawa’s COVID-19 testing strategy, members of the community — including parents, long-term care home visitors, essential workers and underserved populations — needed a clear and consistent source of information when it came to where to get a COVID-19 test, and who should get tested.

In September 2020, when demand for testing resulted in multiple hour line ups at assessment centres across Ontario, Santis Health was engaged to form and support Ottawa’s COVID-19 Testing Taskforce. The Taskforce — which is made up of Ottawa Public Health, local labs, the City of Ottawa, Community Health Centres, CHEO, The Ottawa Hospital, Queensway Carleton Hospital and Hôpital Montfort — coordinates COVID-19 testing efforts across the city.

What Santis Did

Santis first met individually with key partners and players to better understand the existing communications challenges and to identify the best path forward. Working urgently to reduce confusion and frustration among the community, our team implemented the following initiatives:

  • Ottawa’s Daily Testing Bulletin
    Recognizing the accelerated demand for testing in Ottawa, Santis launched Ottawa’s Daily Testing Update. The update was intended to keep the community up to date on ongoing testing guidelines and informed about any new directives or changes to Ottawa’s assessment centres. The update was shared daily with local elected officials as well as a targeted media list to showcase daily data, testing site hours and to highlight any new announcements.
  • A Coordinated Media Approach
    With so many players involved in Ottawa’s testing efforts, media did not have a coordinated avenue to ask questions or share positive news stories. Our team developed a media approach that defined the key roles and responsibilities for the various partners, as well as risk identification and respective approvals processes for each risk level.
  • COVID-19 Testing Campaigns in Underserved Communities
    To encourage testing and to educate residents on its importance, Santis initiated a number of tactics focused on key initiatives, audiences and neighbourhoods. For example, when testing levels fell in newcomer neighbourhoods, we helped local community groups plan, design and launch a Facebook ad campaign in Somali and Arabic. We also prepared a “Communications Toolkit” with messaging in multiple languages to help community groups promote testing through their channels and networks using flyers, door knocking and WhatsApp messages. We also organized partners to produce and launch a shared video to showcase the diverse voices and faces of Ottawa’s testing efforts.
  • Navigating Communications in Multiple Languages
    All communications were developed in French and we supported the development of additional tactics in priority languages including Somali and Arabic.


Over the two-year engagement with Ottawa’s COVID-19 testing partners, Santis Health played an integral role in:

  • Successfully pitching positive news stories to showcase the Taskforce’s important role in the health system, achieving nearly 1,000 media mentions in one year and a front-page story in the Ottawa Citizen.
  • Launching an online dashboard, achieving nearly 300,000 site sessions and nearly 190,000 unique visitors.
  • Coordinating multi-partner social media campaigns, garnering over 500,000 impressions.
  • Coordinating 11 health system partners, all with diverse perspectives and objectives, with consistent key messages, materials and a single branded voice.
  • Engaging underserved communities to increase critical testing levels throughout the pandemic.
  • Supporting Taskforce members through emerging issues by communicating consistently with the public and sharing information regularly with elected officials, media and key stakeholders.

Our Work In Action