Senator-at-Large Steven Payne Sr.

Senator-at-Large Steven Payne Sr. returned to the Legislature’s floor Thursday after a serious battle with COVID-19 that left him briefly hospitalized.

ST. THOMAS — Still shaken after his own battle with COVID-19, Senator-at-Large Steven Payne Sr. returned to the Legislature’s floor Thursday and strongly encouraged everyone to talk to their health care provider about getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It’s better to take the vaccine than to throw the dice hoping you make it through a bout with corona,” Payne said of the coronavirus.

Payne’s office issued an announcement March 15 saying that he tested positive for COVID-19, and was treated for low oxygen levels at Schneider Hospital. Payne has been recovering and quarantining ever since, which prevented him from participating in recent Senate activities.

Payne had been skeptical of the vaccine in the days leading up to his own diagnosis, and on Thursday he took the opportunity to walk back those earlier remarks during a hearing of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

“I was down and out -– and I mean seriously down and out — with a bout with corona,” Payne said, shaking his head. “It took a toll on my body that I never expected. I consider myself to be very healthy. I swim, I bicycle, I lift weights, I can bench press almost 400 pounds, I practice a vegan lifestyle. I eat very healthy. However, corona still threw me on my back, and I can say this publicly -– if it wasn’t for the assistance of my family, I wouldn’t have been here today. It would have been RIP.”

Payne made it clear that vaccination is the best way for Virgin Islanders to protect themselves from the ongoing pandemic, which has claimed 26 lives in the territory over the last year.

“I’m asking everyone within the sound of my voice to speak with your health care provider and seriously consider taking the COVID vaccine,” Payne said. “I can admit that I was one that was saying, ‘I don’t think I’m going to take it.’ But after what I went through? That’s all I’m going to say about that now.”

Payne thanked his colleagues, constituents, well-wishers, and friends for their support.

“It’s truly a blessing to be back,” Payne said.

To schedule a vaccination appointment at the community centers at UVI on St. Thomas and St. Croix, call 340-777-8227 or schedule an appointment online at Covid19usvi.com/vaccines.

- Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.