David Byrd attends a special session of the House of Representatives in 2019. Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

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

In his 8-month battle with the virus, he developed pneumonia, jaundice, and liver failure.

He now hopes that sharing his near-death experience will help people take the virus seriously.

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Tennessee GOP Rep. David Byrd is urging the public to take COVID-19 seriously and get vaccinated after his 8-month struggle with the virus, which saw him hospitalized and put under a ventilator for 55 days.

In a statement last Friday, he wrote that he was diagnosed with the virus the day before Thanksgiving last year and was admitted to the hospital on December 5.

The representative previously voted in favor of a June 2020 resolution that accused the media of sensationalizing the COVID-19 pandemic. He also attended a retreat for House Republican Caucus members last November involving barbecues and boat tours, where many were unmasked despite cases surging in the state at the time.

But after his battle with COVID-19, Byrd now wants people to take the virus seriously, calling it “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 wrote in the statement obtained by NewsChannel 5 Nashville.

Byrd said the virus took over his lungs with “lightning speed,” and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, and his family had planned for the possibility of a funeral.

“I got sicker and sicker and more and more anxious. Every breath was pure agony,” he wrote.

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

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

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“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, Byrd was accused by three women 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 referred to by the women.

Despite calls for him to step down by his fellow representatives following the accusations, Byrd has not resigned.

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