Los Angeles County orders closure of garment manufacturer after 300 employees contract coronavirus

Los Angeles County orders closure of garment manufacturer after 300 employees contract coronavirus
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Los Angeles County health officials have ordered the closure of a garment manufacturing facility where more than 300 employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including four people who died from the disease.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) said in a statement Friday that the order came as a result of an investigation into Los Angeles Apparel, a basics apparel manufacturer and distributor founded in 2016. The company employs more than 350 people, according to its Facebook page.

DPH said that it initiated the probe after learning that three employees died of COVID-19 in June and that one succumbed to the virus in early July. 

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“The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic,” DPH Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to all of the health officer directives — this responsibility is important, now more than ever, as we continue to fight this deadly virus.”

DPH first ordered the Los Angeles Apparel plant on June 27 to shut down its operations after an earlier review found that it had committed "flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders." County officials also said that the garment manufacturer failed to cooperate with its review of a reported coronavirus outbreak at the facility. 

A health care provider had first notified DPH of a potential outbreak at the plant on June 19, the department noted, adding that it prompted an immediate investigation into the matter. As part of the probe, health officials requested a list of the apparel company's employees to compare it to testing results DPH receives. But the company failed to comply with multiple requests for the list, county health officials said. 

Inspectors who visited the plant ahead of the June 27 order also observed "multiple violations of distancing requirements and infection control protocols." The violations included cardboard being used as a barrier between employees. 

A couple weeks later, DPH advised that Los Angeles Apparel could only permit employees who had no symptoms to return. But the company "violated the Health Officer Order by reopening with apparently new employees, which DPH learned despite Los Angeles Apparel’s attempts to prevent DPH employees from entering the factory," officials said. 

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"At this time, Los Angeles Apparel is under orders to remain closed until they can show that the facility is in full compliance with Public Health mandates," DPH said. 

Los Angeles Apparel did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. 

Dov Charney, the company's founder, pushed back on the allegations made by the health department while speaking with CNN. He contended that the decision was "political" in nature and disputed the statement that the company did not cooperate with the investigation.

He told CNN that the county health department did not tell the company that use of cardboard barriers wasn't in line with health protocols. He also said he received no guidance about the hiring of new employees. 

"Absolutely, we brought in new employees," Charney said. "What company can't hire new employees? No one said do not hire new employees."
 
The outbreak at the garment manufacturing facility in Los Angeles comes as Southern California and many other parts of the U.S. experience a surge in new coronavirus cases. California has reported more than 300,000 confirmed cases of the virus, more than a third of which have been recorded in Los Angeles County. 
 
The country reported approximately 4,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on July 7, marking a new single-day high.