David Byrd, a Republican state legislator from Tennessee, had once shunned the mask amid a raging pandemic in the United States. He fell ill due to COVID-19 and had to spend 55 days on a ventilator.

Now that he is back after an 8 month haul with long COVID, he is asking people to take the disease seriously.

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“It is a disease that wants to kill us,”  Byrd said in a statement, reported the Washington Post. He also described his ordeal while he was down with the disease.

He said that the disease ravaged his memory, muscles and organs. Byrd had to get a liver transplant in June. He said his condition was so grave that his family at least once began planning for his funeral. Stating that COVID-19 is very dangerous, Byrd wants people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

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“This is not an issue that should divide us,” Washington Post quoted Byrd as saying.

Before falling ill, Byrd had voted for a resolution that accused the “mainstream media” of sensationalizing pandemic coverage in June last year. He was also present at a multi day retreat of the House Republican Caucus members in November as the cases in Tennessee were surging.

He is not alone in this 180 degree shift. A growing group of Americans, including some Republicans, are now rapidly reassessing their stance about the disease and vaccines as new infections fueled by the easier-to-spread delta variant of the virus point toward a summer virus surge.

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Republican leaders such as Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson have traveled their states encouraging people to get vaccinated.

This comes as the cases in the country continue to rise particularly in the state of Florida which on Saturday recorded its highest single day tally of new cases since the pandemic began