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As California continues to see a surge in new COVID-19 cases, more than 300 workers at Los Angeles Apparel, a garment manufacturing company producing basic cotton wear, have tested positive for the coronavirus, and four have died, public health officials said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) said Friday that the manufacturer will remain closed, after officials first ordered the company’s downtown LA factory to shut down on June 27 after observing several violations of coronavirus safety measures there.
Three employees died in June after contracting the virus, and one in July. The DPH said it launched an investigation into the deaths this month.
“The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic,” DPH director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “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.”
The department was first notified of a potential outbreak at the factory on June 19, but said Los Angeles Apparel did not initially cooperate with its investigation.
A week later, officials visited the site and found “multiple violations of distancing requirements and infection control protocols,” the DPH said, including using cardboard as a barrier between workers. The department then ordered the plant to close.
In early July, despite the company’s attempt to prevent public health officials from entering the factory, they found that Los Angeles Apparel had violated the shutdown order and reopened “with apparently new employees.”
Los Angeles Apparel was founded by Dov Charney in 2016, shortly before his first company American Apparel, which he was fired from, declared bankruptcy. Charney has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple former employees, though he has denied those allegations. In 2017, he told The Guardian that “sleeping with people you work with is unavoidable.”
As the pandemic grew in the US, workers at Los Angeles Apparel began manufacturing masks as part of the city’s initiative for businesses to produce face coverings.
Los Angeles Apparel did not respond to a request for comment, but Charney told CNN that the closure of his plant was a “political” decision by public health officials who were “looking for scapegoats.”
He also acknowledged the death of a longtime employee from COVID-19, suggesting the employee could have been infected elsewhere.
“We’re all in tears,” Charney said. “But I don’t know how he got it. His wife also got it. And if he got it…