“It is a disease that wants to kill us,” state Rep. David Byrd wrote over the weekend in a statement cited by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. “Please take it seriously.”
The Tennesseean reported that Byrd attended a state House Republican retreat in November, which included a dinner with dozens present, and he was seen on the House floor without a mask on Nov. 24.
Byrd was diagnosed with coronavirus one day later.
“Foolishly, I believed this virus only seriously affected people who are at high risk,” he stated. “COVID took over my lungs with lightning speed. I developed pneumonia. I got sicker and sicker, and more and more anxious. Every breath was pure agony.”
Byrd was hospitalized on Dec. 5, the beginning of an eight-month ordeal that included 55 days on a ventilator. After he seemed to be recovering, his liver failed and he needed a transplant.
Byrd said his family was faced with “the very real prospect of planning my funeral” as the infection took over his lungs “with lightning speed.” And while he was unconscious, his family was traumatized daily by his illness. He is now urging people to get vaccinated.
“I understand the concerns of those who are hesitant,” Byrd stated. “To them, I would say COVID is real and it is very dangerous.”
As the nation battled the coronavirus last year, Byrd was among 55 members of the Tennessee House who advanced a conspiracy-fueled message that downplayed the infection and blamed the media.
“We congratulate the people of Tennessee for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas,” the resolution said.
Now that Byrd has fought the infection himself, he said the issue should not divide people.
“I hope that by sharing my experience it helps others to act against an enemy that knows no skin color, economic status or political affiliation,” he stated.
According to data cited by The New York Times, Tennessee has seen hospitalizations more than double over the past two weeks. Just 39%t of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, well below the national average of 49%.
The Washington Post reported that the rate was even lower in Byrd’s district, at 31%.
In 2018, three women accused Byrd of sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers and he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s, leading to bipartisan calls for his resignation.
Byrd released a statement at the time refusing to resign and apologizing “if I hurt or emotionally upset any of my students.”
The Tennessean reported that he has never publicly denied the allegations.