Effective Communication Strategies for COVID-19

Since COVID-19 arrived in Ontario earlier this year, the vital role of effective communications in influencing public behaviour and promoting adherence to public health advice has become abundantly clear. Much has been said about the detrimental impact of mixed messaging in the media (here and here), at a time when crisp, accessible and clear-cut communication is needed most. Effective communication is in its own right a non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) for COVID-19 that can increase adherence to protective behaviours necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus.

As part of its efforts to support hospitals, the OHA has developed a research brief that highlights elements and principles of effective communication strategies, summarizes research and resources on this topic with respect to COVID-19, and offers guidance on how to evolve strategies over the course of the pandemic to ensure impact and reach. For example, choosing appropriate language and metaphors is also an important component of effective communication. Some metaphors may do more harm than good. War metaphors (e.g., fight, battle, attack), particularly entrenched in health and disease rhetoric, may lead to stigmatization and xenophobic action rather than societal cohesion (Nie et al., 2016; Bates, 2020; Serhan, 2020).

Since COVID-19 is expected to be with us for a while longer, ensuring that we communicate successfully will be a vital tool in managing its spread, supporting the health care system, and keeping people safe.


Bates, B. R. (2020). The (In)Appropriateness of the WAR Metaphor in Response to SARS-CoV-2: A Rapid Analysis of Donald J. Trump's Rhetoric. Frontiers in Communication, 5, 50. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2020.00050

Nie, J. B., Gilbertson, A., de Roubaix, M., Staunton, C., van Niekerk, A., Tucker, J. D., & Rennie, S. (2016). Healing Without Waging War: Beyond Military Metaphors in Medicine and HIV Cure Research. The American Journal of Bioethics, 16(10), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2016.1214305

Serhan, Y. (2020, March). The Case Against Waging 'War' on the Coronavirus. Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/war-metaphor-coronavirus/609049/