Trust and Uncertainty in Public Health Emergencies: The Social Life of Covid, 8th October 2020-Dr Alice Street
Testing capacity has taken centre stage of the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the epidemic curve has peaked and dipped, so have the meanings and value of testing been dramatically expanded beyond medical and public health uses to include such purposes as restarting economies or regaining intimacy with loved ones. Effective testing strategies have also been revealed to hinge on multiple relationships of trust: including trust in technology, in government, in oneself, and in strangers. In this presentation I will reflect on the social life of COVID-19 testing through research undertaken by a team of social scientists based at the University of Edinburgh and funded by the European Research Council and the Scottish Chief Scientists Office. This research shows that, while promises of certainty are often made for diagnostic tests, the social relationships on which testing depends often generate intense uncertainties in the testing process. Understanding those relationships and the values they embody, I argue, will be crucial if testing is to be effectively harnessed to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.