Following an investigation into four COVID-19 deaths of Los Angeles Apparel employees, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) ordered continued closure of the downtown Los Angeles garment manufacturer – an offshoot of American Apparel – which now has more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus among its workers.
DPH originally shut down operations at the plant on June 27 after finding flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders and after the company failed to cooperate with DPH’s investigation of a reported COVID-19 outbreak. Friday’s order mandated the continuous closure of this facility and it follows a series of actions intended to mandate this company to adhere to health orders.
“The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “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.”
Three of these tragic deaths occurred in early June and one death occurred in early July. DPH investigated these deaths in July immediately after learning about the deaths.
“Our paramount concern is for the safety of all employees and their families, and the department will continue to actively monitor Los Angeles Apparel and other manufacturing work sites to fully implement the infection control and distancing safety requirements at work environment for all employees,” Ferrer said. ”Our department is moving to accelerate our response to these situations, and we need the full cooperation of the business community to do so.”
“It’s heartbreaking to hear of worker deaths at Los Angeles Apparel. We hope this raises awareness of the urgent need to protect workers, and that workers know they have rights,” said Marissa Nuncio, Director of the Garment Worker Center. “We’re encouraging workers to call the Department of Public Health’s hotline to report unsafe conditions, and letting workers know that we are here as a resource to help them find solutions for their well-being during the pandemic.”
DPH was notified by a concerned healthcare provider of a potential outbreak at the plant on June 19. DPH immediately opened an outbreak investigation, working with the company to determine the extent of the outbreak and provided resources to ensure employee safety. As part of the immediate response, DPH requested from the company a list of all employees to compare it to testing results provided to DPH. This is a crucial tool to determine the extent of a potential outbreak as it allows DPH to track employees against DPH’s list of confirmed positive or negative COVID-19 individuals received from testing labs. The company failed to provide the list after multiple requests. That week, the company reported 151 cases.
On June 26, inspectors conducted a site visit and observed multiple violations of distancing requirements and infection control protocols. This included the use of cardboard as a barrier between the workers.
Based on the site visit, and because the company had still not provided a complete list of employees, DPH issued a Health Officer Order on June 27 shutting down the plant until all safety and infection protocols were met to ensure the safety of employees. The company was provided detailed instructions on the steps that had to be taken in order to re-open the plant.
On July 4, DPH received an incomplete list of all employees at the company with 198 positive results reported. DPH used the incomplete list of employees to compare to results directly provided to DPH by the reporting laboratories. DPH was then able to determine that as of July 10, more than 300 positive cases occurred at the site.
On July 7, DPH sent a letter informing the company that only employees who tested positive on or before June 26 could return to work if they have been fever-free for three days without the use of fever-reducing medicines (such as Tylenol, Motrin, Ibuprofen or Advil) and their symptoms have resolved. The Health Officer Order that ordered the company shut was still in place.
Los Angeles Apparel then 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. On July 9, Public Health issued a directive ordering Los Angeles Apparel to cease operations and again detailed the exact actions necessary before the Order can be lifted.
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.
The Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Division is enhancing its ongoing, unannounced inspection process to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, including compliance with COVID-19 protocols at garment manufacturing and food manufacturing businesses.
Employers are required to report to DPH when there are three or more cases of COVID-19 confirmed at their work-site.
DPH operates a hotline for people to report unsafe work conditions. Employees are encouraged to call (888) 700-9995 to report concerns and violations. Reports may be anonymous and there will be no questions about personal information, including immigration status.
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