Jon Huntsman says he got bogus COVID-19 negative results, still awaits correct info

(Ivy Ceballo | Deseret News, pool) Former Gov. Jon Huntsman addresses the press following the Utah Gubernatorial Republican Primary Debate at the PBS Utah studio at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on June 1, 2020.

Oops. The Salt Lake County Health Department told former Gov. Jon Huntsman on Tuesday that it gave him the wrong information a day earlier when it told him he tested negative for COVID-19.

“Received a call from @SaltLakeHealth saying they gave me wrong results,” Huntsman tweeted on Tuesday. “Still awaiting my results from COVID-19 test last Friday. No word on family members either. Very illuminating to see the process firsthand.”

Abby Huntsman, daughter of the former governor who again is running for his old office, said in an interview that the county health department — which arranged tests for the family — told him the negative result was actually from a test that he had last month, when he really was negative.

She said the family thought the negative report on Monday “was weird because they didn’t have any of our other results done. We all did it together. And he was negative, which I also thought was weird because he had some symptoms.”

“He could still be negative, who knows?" Abby added. "But my sense is he probably does have it.”

Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the county health department, said Tuesday that he couldn’t speak to any one person’s test results but offered a “hypothetical” explanation for the mix-up.

"People who have been tested multiple times will have multiple results in their record and theoretically, someone could look at that record and report a result and have it be for the wrong test date,” he said.

Such circumstances are likely “very rare,” Rupp said, noting that he hasn’t heard of any other instance in which someone has been given an inaccurate test result. But in such a worst-case scenario, he said the health department has quality control checks in place to catch such an error and follow up with the person who received the wrong information, as happened in Huntsman’s case.

“We are confident those quality controls and procedures in place are working. This is an example of it working,” he said.

The former Utah governor went into quarantine last week and canceled all his in-person appearances after learning that a campaign staffer had tested positive for the virus. He remained in quarantine even after being told he was negative while he awaited results for the rest of his family.

Abby Huntsman said the 10 members of the extended family currently living in the former governor’s home are anxious and frustrated as they await results.

“At this point, I’m not sure we’re going to get the tests back,” she said. “We’ve all had symptoms. So we just assume that we’ll probably all be positive. But until you get a positive test, it’s just crazy anxiety that you build up.”

“It’s just a really unsettling time,” Abby added. “When you live it, it’s no longer a news story — it’s your life.”

She also worried that the governor’s retracted test results could speak to some larger failures in the system.

“I just I think there’s a much bigger part of this story that if there are insufficient results or it just takes this long, it’s just a kind of a domino effect on everything else," and “I think this is a big reason why we’re probably seeing more of a spike [in cases]."

Her sister, Liddy Huntsman, also tweeted her frustration on Monday about how long the family has waited to hear back about their test results.

“Day 4 of waiting for COVID results,” she wrote. “Now telling me system tracking results is shut down. As high risk diabetic, in house full of people, this is why cases keep rising in this state!”

Rupp said it can take anywhere from 24 hours to seven days to receive test results, depending on variables that include where someone is tested, where the testers send the sample and how many tests the lab has to run that day.

“The state lab was turning around test results in usually 24 to 48 hours for much of April but as sampling increased and they got more and more, we’re currently about five days for turnaround at the state lab,” he said but noted that some private labs have a faster turnaround.

Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of Jon Huntsman, is chairman of The Salt Lake Tribune’s nonprofit board of directors.