COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the U.S. as experts urge individuals to continue practicing social distancing and wear facial coverings or masks. Businesses across the country are closing down as they become hotspots for the novel coronavirus. Factories, specifically, struggle to deal with stopping the spread of the virus as workers often work closely together and are limited in space making it difficult to social distance.
Reports have been made nationwide in which factory employees have expressed the inability to follow social distancing measures in their work facility. Following an investigation into more than 300 positive COVID-19 cases including four deaths, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has closed down a garment factory in Los Angeles, California. According to CNN, the Los Angeles factory was previously shut down on June 27 after violating county health regulations and failing to cooperate with the health department’s investigation of a reported coronavirus outbreak, health officials said.
Investigations first started when a healthcare provider notified county officials of a possible outbreak on June 19. According to the health department, a site visit on June 26 found multiple violations of COVID-19 safety measures, including the use of cardboard as a barrier between the workers, CNN reported. By July 4 the company had reported 198 positive cases and provided the health department an incomplete list of employees; lab results confirmed more than 300 cases by July 10, the department said.
The factory, called Los Angeles Apparel, reported three deaths in June and one in July. "The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic," Barbara Ferrer said, director for 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."
Los Angeles Apparel was founded in 2016 by Dov Charney, who also founded American Apparel. According to the health department, Los Angeles Apparel was given instructions on what steps to take before reopening however reopened without following the health officer’s order.
Charney disputed claims that his company did not follow safety measures or comply with health department investigations, in addition to allegations that new employees were hired without first being tested. “Absolutely, we brought in new employees,” Charney told CNN. “What company can’t hire new employees? No one said do not hire new employees.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, he said that he is aware of the number of employees who have been infected but implied he believes exposure resulted elsewhere. "We're all in tears. But I don't know how he got it. His wife also got it. And if he got it here, of course it's horrifying. But I can't think that everyone just got it here," Charney said of an employee who worked with him for almost 20 years and died of COVID-19 complications.
Still despite the number of alarming cases his factory has confirmed, Charney plans to reopen the factory again blaming the lack of testing in the U.S. for a surge in cases and suggesting the shutdown of his factory was “political”, CNN reported. He added that the numbers reported were not high for a factory of its size. "It couldn't be less,” he said noting that more safety measures would not decrease cases among employees and that employees were not concerned about working amid the pandemic.
Charney’s lack of concern for his employees comes as no surprise. Multiple former employees have made complaints of sexual harassment against Charney; despite his denials in a 2017 interview with The Guardian he said: "sleeping with people you work with is unavoidable."
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the factory will “remain closed until they can show that the facility is in full compliance with Public Health mandates.” As of this report, there have been at least 320,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California and 7,012 reported deaths as a result of COVID-19, data compiled by The New York Times found. A large majority of the state’s cases were reported in Los Angeles County.