Head of Colorado’s health department tests negative for coronavirus — but says it’s possible she had COVID-19


Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who leads the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Wednesday that she tested negative for the new coronavirus after experiencing symptoms, including shortness of breath, dry cough and a sore throat.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan

Hunsaker Ryan, her husband and her son were tested for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, on March 20 and received the results three days later. Her husband tested positive, while her son tested negative.

There’s a possibility, Hunsaker Ryan said, she received a false negative because the illness was still in the early stages.

“Whether we had COVID-19 or not, I don’t know,” she said. “We had symptoms similar to my husband.”

On March 12, Hunsaker Ryan was in Aspen to help local health officials respond to a cluster of COVID-19 cases. The next day, Hunsaker Ryan said, she traveled to her home in Edwards, in Eagle County, where her family planned to “hunker down” in self-quarantine.

The first cases of the new coronavirus appeared in Colorado’s mountain communities in early-to-mid-March. As those areas became hotspots for the disease, state officials shuttered ski areas and asked tourists to return home.

“I did not think at that time we had been exposed,” Hunsaker Ryan said, adding that the family soon discovered that her husband’s co-worker had tested positive.

Hunsaker Ryan said she’s followed her department’s advice for individuals with potential COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. As such, she is managing the Department of Public Health and Environment’s response to the pandemic from Eagle County. And her husband is doing well, having only experienced mild symptoms.

Hunsaker Ryan, noting the national shortage of testing supplies, said she will not be tested a second time for the new coronavirus because her symptoms have improved.

“It wouldn’t be good for the whole system,” she said of using a second test kit.

While there is no longer a backlog at the state lab, testing for COVID-19 remains limited to those hospitalized, health care workers and those most at risk for complications.

“In the country as a whole, not having mass testing has absolutely hampered states’ abilities to have an effective public health response,” Hunsaker Ryan said.

Join our Facebook group for the latest updates on coronavirus in Colorado.