This story was updated on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 at 8:14 with additional information.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting his chief of staff, who tested positive for the virus and is now in an intensive care unit, the sheriff confirmed Wednesday evening.
The sheriff was informed Wednesday morning that his chief of staff — G.A. "Gino" Bennett — tested positive.
"I was involved in helping one of my staff members the other day who was having a medical issue," Hammond said during a Zoom news conference before identifying Bennett, noting that Bennett gave him permission to disclose the information.
"I felt it would be wise for me to go get tested since I was with them — try to help them in the hospital, and I was told today that I did test positive," he said, adding that the last time he came into contact with Bennett was about four days ago.
"I have quarantined myself for 10 days," he said. "I am asymptomatic at this time."
Bennett was placed in the ICU as a cautionary measure, according to Hammond, "to try to give him the best treatment they can to get beyond this."
No other sheriff's office employees have tested positive, Hammond said. But several others, including Chief Deputy Austin Garrett, are quarantining. And the offices are to be "thoroughly cleaned."
"I had several Zoom meetings today," Hammond said, "to make sure that we keep everything moving the way it needs to. As you well know, we're on a hard deadline for converting Silverdale [Detention Center] over to the sheriff's office by the end of the year."
Hammond confirmed that he attended a Pachyderm Club meeting on Monday, but he wore a mask throughout the meeting "except for when I was eating," he said.
Earlier this year, Hammond questioned the effectiveness of masks to stifle the spread of the coronavirus and would not commit to being tested for the virus after being photographed not wearing a mask at a crowded Lincoln Day celebration hosted by the Hamilton County Republicans.
The Hamilton County Health Department had confirmed that at least one person with an active case of COVID-19 attended the same event.
In an interview with News Channel 9 at around the same time as the event, Hammond said, "My personal thoughts, I'm not convinced the masks are doing that much good."
On Wednesday, he said that if he said that, he "didn't mean it in the spirit that I know better than the scientists did."
"My opinion has always been masks cannot hurt I think that masking is an individual choice when it comes to just you're away from other people and out on the street or somewhere where you're not in a crowd. I think if you are in a crowd, you're wise to wear a mask.
"If you are asked to wear masks, you should be kind enough to tell the person, 'Yes, I will either mask up or remove myself from the area.' That's my position on it, that you use caution. You protect your own family. You protect yourself. And you try to protect others."
The sheriff's office is tasked with enforcing a mask mandate by the health department, which was recently extended through Nov. 22.
At the time of the Lincoln Day event, Hammond said that no one at the event would be cited for violating the order.
Hammond had previously said that his deputies would not "harass" residents who failed to wear masks — a violation that carries a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail — but would instead issue warnings when possible.
"I still hold that we're not going to go out and write tickets except if we have people who are in your face with their refusal to do it," he said Wednesday. "We've only had maybe one or two, possibly, incidents like that. The person was gone by the time we got there. They felt they'd rather leave than challenge the [business]."
Sheriff's office spokesperson Matt Lea said contact tracing has begun for those who have come into contact with the sheriff.