Getting attention for public health messages, a tweet at a time

Ever wondered who's behind the clever and informative tweets at Ottawa Public Health? Kevin Parent, who heads the team that aims to be informative and engaging, often bringing much-needed levity to the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic.

From pineapple on pizza to jabs at Ryan Reynolds — how OPH's social media is taking on the pandemic

Ottawa Public Health is in the serious businesses of overseeing the pandemic response in capital. Its social media team is integral to delivering key health messages, but adds a little levity where it can. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The COVID-19 has been long, dreary and stressful for many people, but one social media account is doing what it can to add a little levity to the trying day, while still delivering information about one of the biggest health crises in a century.

Ottawa Public Health's (OPH) social media account — @ottawahealth — has been full of quips, barbs, and even children's songs set to new "social-wise" lyrics.

Among the messages to physically distance and wear a mask, the team has sneaked in a few anti-pineapple on pizza tweets here and there. They've tweeted double-entendres about masks and safe sex. They even took a jab at Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, who once lived in Vanier. The amusing tweet elicited a response from a number of readers — including the actor himself.


Kevin Parent is part of what he describes as a small-but-mighty communications team that's behind the public health agency's Twitter account.

"We're never trying to be funny first. We're always just trying to be engaging," he said.

"[The Twitter account] also just kind of helps us cut through the noise of, you know, the busy-ness that is Twitter and just kind of get some attention for some little health messages."

LISTEN | Ottawa Morning: The brain behind Ottawa Public Health's tweets

But just how does one keep things light during a pandemic? Parent acknowledges people are nervous and scared. There's a lot going on during these trying times where people are being told to get used to living in this new normal.

Since OPH's own social media "normal" has always including cheeky messages, the team thought, "Why don't we kind of take a dose of our own medicine on that?" Parent told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday. "It seems to have worked so far."


The team also enjoys receiving replies and having one-on-one interactions with people in the community.

"I don't think we can do what we do anywhere else," he said.

"There's something about this community that's just phenomenal and everybody loves engaging with us and taking part and it's kind of a great part about being in Ottawa."


While the message can be funny, it also has to be informative. The team relies on empathy, honesty and transparency to communicate messages in a crisis, even when that message may change from one day to another, he said.

"Yes, we know that it's been difficult. We know that sometimes it seems that this has kind of been the direction that we were going and now we're kind of going in a different direction and it may seem confusing but we acknowledge that and then here's why, and we'll lay out our reasoning."


As Ottawa has had a recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases, mostly in younger adults and teenagers, part of Ottawa Public Health's most recent strategy has been trying to get the message out about the importance of physical distancing and wearing masks to that community. Sometimes that means cutting out the humour and laying out the facts.


"It does weigh on you after a while. It's been a long pandemic."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning