This Tennessee Republican Nearly Died From COVID. Now He’s Fighting Masks.

tate Rep. David Byrd needed a liver transplant after 55 days on a ventilator. Now he’s thanking the medical professionals who saved his life by battling mask and vaccine mandates.

OPINION

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

Tennessee state Rep. David Byrd was recorded apologizing to one of two former students who accused him of molesting them when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

“I can promise you one thing, I have been so sorry for that,” he says in a recording that surfaced along with the allegations in 2018. “I’ve lived with that and you don’t know how hard it has been for me.”

A third student charged that he had attempted to molest her. But Byrd never admitted nor explicitly denied what the three alleged, saying only, “I have done nothing wrong or inappropriate during my term as state representative.”

The then speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell, called on Byrd to resign. He refused and joined many of his fellow Republican representatives in wrongdoing of another kind when the pandemic hit.

Byrd was complicit in an effort to minimize the coronavirus threat as no worse than the flu. He opposed such basic mitigation measures as masking and social distancing. He was one of 55 Tennessee Republican representatives who signed a resolution in June of last year alleging that “[the] mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.”

In November, just as Tennessee was reporting a record high number of new COVID-19 cases, Byrd and other members of the House Republican caucus ignored public health recommendations against large gatherings and held a three-day retreat. The event was in the lodge at Pickwick Landing State Park in Byrd’s district. Byrd hosted a big dinner at a nearby restaurant on the first night and of course he was among the many who did not wear a mask.

The day before Thanksgiving, Byrd tested positive for COVID-19. He was flown by helicopter from his hometown of Waynesboro to Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville and he issued a plaintive statement on Dec. 7.

“Please pray for God’s healing for my lungs, and that He will give me strength and endurance as I battle this virus.”

He spent 55 days on a ventilator in the ICU.

“My wife and family prayed for a miracle while facing the very real prospect of planning my funeral,” he said in the statement.

He was one of the lucky ones who survived after needing to be intubated. But he was initially unable to use his limbs. And he began to suffer liver failure.

On June 12, he received a liver transplant. He was still recovering on July 29, when he arrived in a wheelchair at the House chamber.

Harwell had stepped down to make an unsuccessful run for governor. Her successor, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, said a prayer for Byrd, who had missed the entire legislative session. Byrd solemnly took a renewed oath of office.

“Life is a miraculous gift that I am humbled beyond all odds and explanation to receive a second chance at living,” he said in a statement released later by the caucus.

But Byrd made no mention of those who did die after being convinced by pandemic-denying elected officials such as himself that COVID is just like the flu. Byrd uttered not a syllable of apology for having contributed in however small a way to the deaths of hundreds of thousands by hampering our fight against the virus.

In failing to voice any concern for the effect his words and deeds as an elected official might have had on others, Byrd initially seemed just a typically monstrous minimizer who has suddenly decided that “COVID is real and it is very dangerous” after it nearly killed him.

But Byrd has now outdone himself and proven to be among the lowest of the low.

On Wednesday night, Byrd joined all 73 members of the House Republican caucus in petitioning Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session of the legislature to prohibit local mask mandates and keep businesses from barring the unvaccinated.

At a time when virus infections were breaking records set back when he got sick, Byrd’s signature on the letter made him part of a deadly double speak.

“Governor Lee: The General Assembly of the State of Tennessee has a constitutional duty to enact general law to shape the options, decisions, and priorities of our local governments, including local boards and other local entities. We write today to request that you call an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in order for the legislature to convene and address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials. It is of the utmost urgency to move quickly due to the potential of significant harm to Tennesseans…”

Byrd and the other signatories were pretending to be concerned with public safety when they were actually placing everybody at risk of suffering as he had when, in his words, he felt like “every breath is an agony.” That includes youngsters in school districts that have instituted mask mandates in response to the Delta variant.

“…We believe there is a need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials, confirm a parent’s right to make decisions that impact the mental and physical health of their children, provide support and direction to schools to ensure educators are properly compensated for COVID-19 leave, and protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates designed to limit their ability to make their own decisions…”

And the letter did not stop with masks.

“…Finally, in addition to the debate needed around continued COVID-19 mandates, the General Assembly needs to evaluate the ongoing discrimination of Tennesseans by prohibiting their access to buildings due only to their vaccination status.”

Byrd signed it even though his eight-month, nearly fatal fight with the virus had ended with him stating, “Consider the vaccine.”

The night before this letter was sent to the governor, the Williamson County School Board had met to vote on a mask mandate. The parents who spoke included Dr. Jennifer King.

“As a pediatric ICU physician, we are seeing more younger previously healthy children admitted with respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome than we have in prior strains, as cases in children are on the rise,” she told the board. “The trend will only worsen if we don’t act now.”

The board acted by voting unanimously to impose a mask mandate that allows for medical and religious exemptions. Anti-maskers followed some of the pro-mask witnesses into the parking lot and threatened them for having spoken proven and documented truth.

“We know who you are!” one anti-masker cried out. “You can leave freely, but we will find you!”

Another warned, “Actions have consequences!”

The letter sent out to the governor 24 hours later was a victory for these bare-faced thugs.

Along with the growing number of people infected by COVID, losers include the same doctors and nurses who fought so hard to save Byrd.

He had already shown disregard for them by ignoring public health measures and getting sick in the first place.

He now thanks them in his own lower-than-low way by moving to block mitigation measures when the hospitals are already overwhelmed. He failed to respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

The fellow Republican legislators who are joining in this effort continue to address him as “Coach Byrd,” as if he never had reason to apologize to anyone.

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