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Mark Wingate, left of the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, and Congressman Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, at a news conference Feb. 20 in Lafayette, Louisiana, on results of a study to dredge the Vermilion River.

As daily deaths from the coronavirus in Louisiana appear to have plateaued, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins once again took to the internet to denounce emergency stay-at-home orders as a “betrayal of our constitutional freedoms” and demanded that restrictions be lifted by the beginning of next month.

In a video posted to his campaign Facebook page Wednesday, Higgins addressed “government oppressors” while decrying how businesses have largely been closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Higgins, a Lafayette Republican, has been a vocal, though mostly lonely, critic of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency actions over the past six weeks, including statewide orders closing certain businesses deemed “nonessential” and urging people not to leave their homes.

Public health officials, state leaders and medical experts have credited stay-at-home orders with slowing the pandemic, which spread rapidly in Louisiana and has claimed 1,473 lives in the state so far — the seventh-highest death toll among the states.

Governors in nearly every other state have issued similar orders. President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in all 50 states because of the pandemic, and the White House has issued guidelines urging state leaders to lift restrictions only if coronavirus cases drop.

In the latest video, Higgins speaks directly into the camera while walking in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., bemoaning the lack of traffic on the city’s streets.

“It’s really unbelievable that we have allowed our nation to be shuttered. Let’s see what we can do about that,” Higgins says. “Come May 1, the government is either going to allow America to open, or America is going to force the government to open.”

In an earlier video, Higgins blasted Edwards’ initial emergency actions, calling the governor “out of line” and accusing him of sitting in “an ivory tower” while business owners suffered. That outburst drew rebukes from fellow Republicans while a spokeswoman for the governor called Higgins’ comments “incredibly disappointing.”

Edwards’ actions have mostly drawn support from leaders in both political parties, including the rest of the Louisiana’s mostly Republican congressional delegation. But the congressman has stuck by his contention that emergency stay-at-home orders are on “very thin legal authority,” despite consensus from legal experts that Edwards has acted well within his broad emergency powers under Louisiana law.

The Trump administration also announced guidelines in mid-March urging people to stay home, avoid any gatherings of more than 10 people and to avoid going to bars, restaurants and other nonessential businesses.

Although Trump himself has at times urged states to move more quickly to reopen their economies, his White House’s framework calls on state leaders to begin lifting restrictions only after seeing improvement on a number of measures of the coronavirus pandemic’s severity for 14 days.

Trump on Wednesday personally criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to lift state restrictions on large swathes of the economy, including tattoo parlors, spas and barbershops. Trump said it's "too soon" to open those sorts of businesses and that he disagreed "very strongly" with the move, but added that Kemp "must do what he thinks is right."

The White House plan envisions a phased reopening of the economy, allowing some businesses to open doors while implementing precautions and keeping other restrictions in place.

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Edwards said at a press briefing on Wednesday that, although it appears that coronavirus infections in Louisiana have peaked, the state has only seen seven days of improvement so far.

Edwards reiterated that restrictions would be lifted only gradually and the state would move cautiously to avoid a major “second wave” of infections that could send the death rate climbing, something Edwards contended would not only cost lives but would be far more damaging to the economy in the long run.


Email Bryn Stole at bstole@theadvocate.com.