Los Angeles Apparel Factory Shut Down After More Than 300 Coronavirus Cases

In mid-March, because the coronavirus raged throughout New York, Washington State, California and New Jersey, and the disaster in private safety tools shortages grew, Dov Charney of Los Angeles Apparel was one of many first clothes retailers to step into the void.

In reopening his Los Angeles manufacturing facility to provide face masks, Mr. Charney, the previous chief government of American Apparel who was ousted amid allegations of misuse of funds and knowingly permitting sexual harassment, was remodeled from business pariah to champion.

Los Angeles Apparel, his new firm, was deemed a vital enterprise. The federal authorities turned a consumer, Mr. Charney stated. The lengthy street to redemption appeared, abruptly, a lot shorter.

But on July 10, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ordered Mr. Charney’s manufacturing facility to shut: An investigation discovered over 300 confirmed infections among the many garment employees, and 4 deaths. Three of the deaths had been in June, and one in July.

In a news release detailing the closure, the health department cited “flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders” and failure “to cooperate with DPH’s investigation of a reported COVID-19 outbreak.”

This is one of the first forced closures of a factory in Los Angeles because of coronavirus-related outbreaks, according to Jan King, the regional health officer for South and West Los Angeles. Though the health department conducts numerous investigations, they are usually resolved through action with the companies involved.

“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,” said Barbara Ferrer, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, in a statement about the closure, which contained a timeline of the investigation.

In a phone call, Mr. Charney called the announcement “media theatrics,” and said: “I don’t think that press release represents the point of view of the people I am working with at the department of health. Some of them have apologized to me. It’s not truthful.”

He also issued a lengthy statement of his own in response, which stated, in part: “In all fairness, it’s morally irresponsible for the Health Department to speak on the infection rates at our factory without also addressing its connection to the issue at large: that the Latino community in Los Angeles is left vulnerable to Covid-19 in a healthcare system that provides no support with testing and no support or assistance for those that test positive.”

The health department opened an investigation, which included a request that the company send over a list of all employees — a request the health department said was not met even after multiple appeals. On June 26, the health department conducted a site visit, and the next day the factory was closed.

According to Ms. King, the violations discovered included cardboard barriers between worker stations, and coronavirus guidance materials that had not been translated into Spanish (the first language of most of the employees). An official also found a lack of training on health protocols such that, when asked by a physician, the employee who was supposed to be screening fellow employees for symptoms could not list what they were — even though they were posted on the wall behind the employee.

While some of the infractions were minor, Ms. King said, there was a sense the company was not taking seriously the documents the health department had sent that listed the changes that need to be made. As a result, the investigation team went from one person to around 10.

The factory reopened briefly on July 9 before being forced to close again.

Mr. Charney disputed almost all of these facts. He said that it was the company itself that first alerted the health department to the situation; that the company had been making best efforts to provide the employee list requested but that there were privacy issues involved; that the cardboard was in addition to social distancing regulations (and had been recommended by a consultant because the virus does not live long on cardboard).

He also said that it was the responsibility of the health department to translate their documents into Spanish — not the responsibility of the company.

The legal department of the health department, he said, had told him the factory could reopen on July 9, though Ms. King said a written document permitting reopening was required first. Mr. Charney attributed the confusion to “miscommunication” in an overburdened department.

“Three hundred is a very concerning outbreak,” Ms. King said of the individuals who had fallen ill.

The factory remains closed, according to the Department of Health statement, until “they can show that the facility is in full compliance with Public Health mandates,” but the hope for both the health department and Mr. Charney is to reopen later this week.

Both sides are, Ms. King said, “in constant touch.” Mr. Charney said he was “learning a lot.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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