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Lawmaker may need ventilator after contracting virus

December 10, 2020 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee lawmaker hospitalized with COVID-19 warned Thursday that he might have to go on a ventilator due to his low oxygen levels as he battles the virus.

“I really need a miracle today!! My doctor said if my oxygen level doesn’t improve then he has no choice but to put me on a ventilator,” Rep. David Byrd of Waynesboro said in a Facebook post.

Byrd, 63, was hospitalized over the weekend due to complications from the virus. He was flown by helicopter from Wayne County Hospital to Saint Thomas in Nashville.

Byrd attended the House GOP caucus meeting on Nov. 24 when the nearly 70-member group reelected legislative leaders. He also participated in a House GOP overnight retreat the weekend prior.

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Byrd had attracted scrutiny for more than a year over allegations by three women of sexual misconduct three decades ago when he was a high school teacher and their basketball coach. He was never charged. Two of the women alleged Byrd had inappropriately touched them; the third said Byrd tried to.

He apologized to one of the women in a phone call she recorded in early 2018, but didn’t detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.

Byrd is the second Tennessee lawmaker to be hospitalized due to the virus. To date, 30 legislative staffers or lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 since May, according to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons wrote a letter to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville this week pleading that the leader to implement strict health and safety regulations when the GOP-dominant Statehouse kicks off its 2021 session in January.

“I cannot put the health of my and other’s children in jeopardy, so I will likely have to self-quarantine from my family for the duration of our legislative session unless a mask mandate and other proper precautions are put in place by your office,” the Nashville Democrat wrote, noting he had three young children doing virtual schooling at home.

Earlier this year, when lawmakers convened over the summer for a special legislative session, public access was limited and lawmakers were not required to wear masks.

In other virus developments, Shelby County health officials said Thursday that inspectors visiting restaurants and other businesses to ensure they are complying with coronavirus-related rules have received threats of violence and are being accompanied by police officers as they make their rounds.

The county that includes Memphis sends inspectors to businesses to check that they are following regulations, such as employees wearing masks, proper social distancing, and closing times. Restaurants and bars in Shelby County must close by 10 p.m. and they are not allowed to permit smoking, dancing, or customers sitting or standing together at bars, for example.

Inspectors have a checklist and report results to the health department, which decides whether to take action. Nine business were closed last weekend for failing to comply, and the health department had received more than 70 complaints as of Thursday, said Dr. Bruce Randolph, the county’s chief health officer.

Police officers are going with the inspectors after some received racial slurs and threats of violence, Randolph said.

“We’re not out to just close businesses,” Randolph said during a media briefing Thursday. “We’re out to protect the public’s health.”

Shelby County reported 695 additional cases Thursday, and the death total stands at 722, the health department said. the county has more than 3,500 active cases and more than 8,000 people are in quarantine. Officials said the county is currently seeing a surge in cases that developed after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Memphis officials also say health care facilities are seeing a shortage of nurses and other staff. Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, has put out a call for people with medical training and experience, such as retirees, those who are working administrative jobs, or are employed outside the health care field, to contact the Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps if they are willing to help ease the current staffing shortage.

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Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.