LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Apparel, one of the largest garment makers in the city, was ordered to remain closed after four employees died and more than 300 tested positive for the coronavirus, Los Angeles County health officials announced Friday.
Public health officials gave the order on Thursday.
The company’s South Los Angeles factory — which has switched from making clothing to producing face masks — was ordered closed on June 27 because of “flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders” such as physical distancing, according to the county Department of Public Health.
The company was told this week that when it is allowed reopen, employees who tested positive on or before June 26 could return to work only if they had been fever-free for three days without the use of fever-reducing medicines. But the manufacturer then reopened with apparently new workers, the department said.
Founder Dov Charney said Friday that the workers were actually older workers who had tested negative for COVID-19, along with other employees who showed no symptoms.
Charney said his company has tried to follow “disjointed, confusing and conflicted” orders from health officials. Charney also said he thought he had received permission to reopen Wednesday and Thursday before being ordered to shut down.
“We received a letter from the county attorney and I was completely understanding that we could reopen,” he said.
Three Los Angeles Apparel garment workers died in early June and another in early July, authorities said.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, called the deaths tragic and said business owners “have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment.”
Charney said the company has not been prohibited from selling its existing products or been ordered to recall them. Health experts say the virus doesn’t live long on fabric or other surfaces and is spread mainly through contact with droplets from infected people.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Charney said the company has social distancing on the factory floor and has taken other measures to avoid the spread of infection but it employs as many as 1,500 workers at a time.
“We cannot control everyone’s behavior during their breaks, on the streets of Los Angeles, on their way home” in a densely populated urban area that has seen a spike in the virus, Charney said.