Jon Huntsman tests positive for the coronavirus, will continue his campaign for governor from home

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

After receiving a false negative test result for COVID-19 earlier this week, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said he received a positive diagnosis Wednesday.

“After a second try, test results came back positive for Covid-19,” he tweeted Wednesday morning. “Have been experiencing classic symptoms ... like so many others, my goal is to keep my family safe. Though isolated temporarily, we’ve never been more energized in this important race for Governor. The work goes on!”

Huntsman, who is again running for the governor’s seat, went into quarantine last week and canceled his in-person events after a staffer working on his campaign tested positive for COVID-19. He said Wednesday that six members of his campaign staff have now received coronavirus diagnoses.

“They’re all doing well,” he reported in a video update posted Wednesday afternoon on Twitter. "They’re taking care of themselves. They’re all in isolation. We’re working remotely; we haven’t missed a beat and we won’t miss a beat. We’ll just keep it up.”

Hours before the Huntsman campaign said it learned of the first positive test among campaign staff and subsequently went into quarantine, the candidate attended an outdoor campaign event in Logan. There, pictures show he shook hands with multiple people and didn’t wear a mask.

Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., left, shakes hands with people during a campaign stop Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP)

His daughter Abby Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune that the campaign wasn’t aware “of any COVID situation until Thursday night.”

"So anyone talking about an event on Thursday, my dad was going about his events as planned at that point, so what are you going to do?” she said.

The campaign has made an effort to reach out to all those who may be at risk of exposure, though she said staffers don’t necessarily have contact information for everyone who was at an event.

“All you can do is just alert people,” Abby Huntsman said.

Tara Scribellito, an infectious disease nurse supervisor with the Salt Lake County Health Department, said there’s a general rule of thumb to assess coronavirus risk: “If somebody was with the individual for greater than 10 minutes and they were within 6 feet of them, that would be an exposure.”

She said those who may have been exposed at a campaign event or other large gathering should self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor their temperature twice a day. If the person begins exhibiting symptoms, he or she should call a medical provider or the health department to arrange for testing.

"If anyone is ill or sick, avoid public places, even if they’re mild symptoms. They need to stay home, they need to avoid going into public places and everyone should be wearing a mask in public, washing their hands and maintaining that 6-foot distance.”

Testing complications

The day after his first campaign staffer tested positive for COVID-19, Huntsman went to get tested for the virus.

After waiting for answers over the weekend, he reported Monday that he’d received a negative result. The next day, however, he tweeted that he wasn’t in the clear — the Salt Lake County Health Department said it had given him the wrong information.

Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the health department, offered a “hypothetical” explanation for the mix-up Tuesday, noting that people who have been tested multiple times “will have multiple results in their record.”

“Theoretically,” Rupp said, “someone could look at that record and report a result and have it be for the wrong test date.”

Huntsman received a negative result when he was tested for the coronavirus last month.

But Rupp added that a false negative diagnosis is likely “very rare" and said he hadn’t heard of any other instance in which someone has been given an inaccurate test result.

While Huntsman now has clarity, he said Wednesday that several members of his family are still awaiting their results.

“I’ve seen in my own family, as we have a lot under one roof, the level of uncertainty and anxiety," he said in his video update. “It’s very real, and we’re still waiting for some tests that are pending on some family members, including one who’s in more of a high-risk category. So we’re going to do our very best and I will make sure that first and foremost I watch out for the health and well-being of our family."

Abby Huntsman said Wednesday on Twitter that her test result had come back negative but that she would “go back for another test today after living in the same house as my dad.”

“Hoping the state can figure out its testing complications," she added, "as this is too important to get wrong!”

The race goes on

Huntsman is one of four Republicans running to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert, and his diagnosis comes just 20 days ahead of the June 30 primary contest.

Each of his opponents — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former House Speaker Greg Hughes and former GOP Chairman Thomas Wright — offered Huntsman and his family their well wishes on Twitter on Wednesday.

Cox, who has played a leading role in Utah’s coronavirus response, wrote that he was “devastated” to hear of Huntsman’s positive diagnosis and said he and his wife, Abby, were "praying for you and your family and that you will make a quick and full recovery.”

Liddy Huntsman, one of Huntsman’s daughters, who has tweeted her frustration at the length of time it’s taken to hear back about her COVID-19 test results, fired back.

“Instead of praying, why don’t you do your job as head of Covid task force and figuring out what’s going on!” she wrote to Cox. “My family is paying the consequences!”

She later deleted the tweet.

Huntsman has complained in recent debates that Herbert politicized the COVID-19 pandemic by appointing Cox, his chosen successor, to lead the state’s coronavirus response. New polling from The Tribune and Suffolk University show he and Cox are virtually tied, with the lieutenant governor enjoying a slight advantage as ballots begin to show up in voters’ mailboxes.

Abby Huntsman said that going through the testing process has made her father “even more energized” in the race.

He has “a much better understanding of what people are going through and things that could be worked on to make it a little more efficient for people," she said.

And she’s not too worried about the impact his diagnosis will have on the race.

“In today’s environment, you can be at home but you can still do a lot of the work, as people are doing,” she said. "Our campaign is working their hearts out.”

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