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Pinal Sheriff Lamb tests positive for COVID-19 during White House visit

Lamb had refused to enforce coronavirus 'stay at home' measures

Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, tested positive for coronavirus during a mandatory test during a White House visit, he said Wednesday. Lamb said he likely contracted the virus during a campaign event over the weekend.

Lamb announced his diagnosis in a post on the Pinal County Sheriff's Office page on Facebook.

The elected Republican sheriff of the county between Pima (Tucson) and Maricopa (Phoenix) counties is a booster of President Donald Trump, and has been invited to Washington, D.C., numerous times to promote the president's border policies. In May, Lamb had announced that he would not actively enforce Gov. Doug Ducey's loose "stay at home" order meant to stem the pandemic.

While Lamb said Wednesday that "likely I came into contact with an infected individual" during one of his political campaign events on Saturday, he wrote that his "line of work" as an elected law enforcement official is "inherently dangerous."

"Unfortunately, as a law enforcement official and elected leader, we do not have the luxury of staying home," he said. "This line of work is inherently dangerous, and that is a risk we take when we sign up for the job. Today, that risk is the COVID-19 virus."

Lamb did not disclose whether he has been tested for the virus previously.

"On Tuesday, I was called to join the president at the White House. As is protocol, all visitors are screened for the virus. While still asymptomatic, I tested positive for the COVID-19," he said.

"I will be self-quarantining for the next 14 days minimum," he said. Lamb did not state when he was notified of the diagnosis, and whether he returned to Arizona after being informed of the positive report.

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Lamb did not disclose whether he met with the president during his visit, and did not indicate who else he met with during the trip to D.C.

Despite social media chatter and some apparent errant mentions by TV newsreaders, there's no indication that Lamb attended the public signing of an executive order by Trump. The law enforcement official who stood next to the president was Sheriff Mark Cage of Eddy County, N.M. — which TucsonSentinel.com verified by reviewing the attendee list as released by the White House and comparing Cage's uniform shoulder patch with the patch shown in numerous photographs of the Tuesday event.

"I alerted the Pinal County Public Health Dept. immediately after my positive test, and they are working to track all those I came in contact with following the Saturday event," Lamb said.

Lamb said in May that he would not have his department actively enforce the "stay at home" measures ordered by Gov. Doug Ducey to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

"In tough times, tough decisions have to be made," he told the Phoenix New Times. "I'm looking at two laws in each hand [and] going with the one that's 200 years old rather than two days old."

From the New Times:

"I don't want to make criminals out of people who are just trying to keep their business from going under," the sheriff said.

Asked if it were possible that his decision could lead to more infection and death from COVID-19, Lamb compared the disease to the flu and noted that people take risks "every day we walk out the door."

Lamb said he gives condolences to people who have lost friends or family members because of the coronavirus, but somebody "has to have the guts" to stand up to the unconstitutional policies, which have created an "unsustainable" economic situation for the vast majority of Arizonans who haven't gotten sick.

He added that the first two COVID-19 deaths reported in Pinal County were actually a heart attack and an asthma attack, and "didn't have anything to do with COVID but were attributed to COVID."

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Vandana Ravikumar/Cronkite News

Lamb in 2018.