Tennessee GOP rep who rejected masks now says COVID-19 is real and dangerous after his 8-month battle with the virus

  • Rep. David Byrd used to support the idea that the media was sensationalizing the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In his eight-month battle with COVID-19, he developed pneumonia, jaundice, and liver failure.

  • He said he hoped that sharing his near-death experience would help people take the virus seriously.

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Tennessee state GOP Rep. David Byrd is urging people to take COVID-19 seriously and get vaccinated after his eight-month struggle with the coronavirus, in which he was hospitalized and put on a ventilator for 55 days.

In a statement on Friday, he said he was diagnosed with COVID-19 the day before Thanksgiving and admitted to the hospital on December 5.

He had voted for a resolution in June 2020 that accused the media of sensationalizing the COVID-19 pandemic. And he attended a retreat for House Republicans last November, when cases were surging in the state, involving barbecues and boat tours - many attendees were unmasked.

But after having COVID-19, Byrd said he wanted people to take the virus seriously, saying it's real and dangerous.

"Up until this point in my life, I've been pretty healthy and active. Foolishly, I believed this virus only seriously affected people who are at high risk," he said in the statement, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Nashville.

Byrd said that the virus took over his lungs with "lightning speed" and that he got pneumonia. He was placed on a ventilator in the intensive-care unit, and his family faced the possibility of a funeral, he said.

"I got sicker and sicker, and more and more anxious," he said. "Every breath was pure agony."

When his lungs got better, his liver started to fail, and he developed jaundice, again putting him at risk of death, he said. Overall, he spent eight months in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility, he added.

Byrd said he hoped that sharing his experience would show that the virus is "an enemy that knows no skin color, economic status or political affiliation."

"I have never been against taking the Covid-19 vaccine, but I understand the concerns of those who are hesitant. To them, I would say Covid is real and it is very dangerous," he said.

"It is a disease that wants to kill us. Please take it seriously. Please consider getting vaccinated. This is an issue that should not divide us," he continued.

In 2018, three women accused Byrd of sexually assaulting them when he was their high-school basketball coach. Byrd did not directly deny the accusations but said he was unable to recall the incidents the women described. Following the accusations, Byrd's fellow representatives called for him to step down.

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