South LA

LA Apparel Factory Is Currently ‘Largest Outbreak Investigation,' Health Officials Say

When it comes to the spike in local coronavirus cases, LA Public Health says factory work is often to blame.

NBC Universal, Inc.

When it comes to the spike in local coronavirus cases, LA Public Health says factory work is often to blame. Last Friday, LA County Public Health extended its closure of LA Apparel, the maker of face coverings and former creator of casual clothing. Spotlighting a factory with four workers dead of COVID-19, the agency says there are no signs of improvement. 

“We have confirmed 375 positive cases among 2,290 employees at this company," Dr. Muntu Davis, LA County Health Officer, said. "This is the largest outbreak investigation that we have at this time.”

Advocates are doing what they can to help feed workers hit hard by the pandemic and the factory shutdown.

I’m not surprised. Workplaces can be dangerous places if a worker's health is not, hasn’t been prioritized from the very beginning.

Marissa Nunez, of Garment Worker Center

In a written statement, LA Apparel owner Dov Charney says he respects the Public Health closure order and claims he’s taken every measure possible to protect his employees from COVID-19. Public Health says it gets two-three thousand complaints per week about wholesale warehouses, meat packing plants, and other “potential health protocol violations.”

LA Public Health is taking tough action against a local clothing manufacturer which showed "flagrant" violations of infection-control protocols. Beverly White reports for NBC LA at 11 p.m. Friday July 10, 2020.

“They’re large employers with high numbers of low wage workers. Workers spending long shifts together in close proximity, indoor spaces!," Davis said.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that workers are called upon to boost the economy without proper protection," Nunez said.

Public Health cited LA Apparel for a lack social distancing and infection control and makes no mention of this vast factory floor re-opening anytime soon.

“The manufacturer is still closed pending some additional activities to bring them into compliance," Davis said.

Read the full statement from Los Angeles Apparel below.

We want to clarify that we have taken every measure possible to protect our employees from COVID-19. From the onset of the virus and much prior to masks being recommended or mandated, all Los Angeles Apparel employees have been wearing masks. We have enforced social distancing requirements, spacing machines and break areas by six feet or more apart. We have set up hand sanitizer and disinfectant stations throughout the factory. We test each employee and visitor’s temperature and dispense hand sanitizer before they are permitted to enter the facilities. We have enforced routine cleaning and disinfecting of workstations and equipment. We have installed facial recognition time clocks to reduce the amount of surfaces that employees have to touch throughout the day. For five weeks we have been testing employees for COVID-19 repeatedly.

As a result of repeated testing, we have been able to identify individuals that test positive so that they can quarantine, as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The illnesses and loss of life amongst our team and the community is absolutely heartbreaking. 

Contrary to the Health Department’s official report, we provided the information on employee infection rates and positive/negative test results as soon as we could. At no time did we withhold any data — the data that the Health Department requested sometimes took a few days to procure because it relied on us obtaining private information from employees, which we needed consent and confirmation from them to release. In fact, prior to being contacted by the Health Department, we proactively approached their offices to alert them about the rates of infection amongst our employees, the vast majority of whom are Latino. We recognized that this was perhaps an indicator of a potentially larger issue that wasn’t being addressed by the public sector. 

A healthcare clinic that serves the local community in South Los Angeles, where our factory is located, tested 7,000 people between April 15 and June 30, with 1,050 testing positive. This 15% positive rate is similarly reflected in the testing of our employees. Of approximately 2,100 employees tested between April 15 and June 30, 300 had positive results. 

The infection rates and positive test results amongst our employees are a reflection of a larger systemic issue in Los Angeles: that of a healthcare system and government that does little to address serious, historical and perpetual racial inequities that have been violently brought to light during COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Latino community are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and the rate of infection is steeper amongst Latinos. 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 more vulnerable to COVID-19 in a healthcare system that has provided unclear paths for non-English speakers seeking tests and little instruction for those that test positive. At that time, we raised our concerns to the Health Department and requested help with routine testing that we were already helping to conduct independently. They instead chose to mandate a closure of our factory. 

We absolutely respect the order to remain closed, and want to be clear that we reopened with written permission from the Health Department who later changed their position. We did not reopen against their order. We understand that the Health Department is facing numerous challenges with regard to the public response to mandates; we are sure this is not easy and will support any directive that can reduce the number of cases in Los Angeles and our community.

We are determined to do anything in our power to provide continued support for our employees and are happy to make any investment necessary to keep our them safe at work. But we are deeply disappointed at the fact that the larger issue affecting the Latino community is not being efficiently addressed and managed by local government officials. These are our colleagues, our family, and friends being affected, and we want to protect them and keep them safe.

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