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Vaccines not required for KCC, ONU in fall

Illinois colleges and universities both public and private are being encouraged to issue mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policies, but that won’t be the case at the two higher education institutions in Kankakee County.

They are instead continuing their own COVID-19 precautions and practices in the 2021-22 academic year, including self-assessment surveys upon arrival to campus at Kankakee Community College and weekly COVID-19 saliva testing for unvaccinated students at Olivet Nazarene University.

KCC is following CDC guidance that vaccinated people are not required to wear masks, and unvaccinated people are encouraged to wear them, President Michael Boyd said.

But the college will allow students to have the personal choice to wear one or not, regardless of vaccination status, he said.

KCC will not be tracking or verifying students’ vaccination statuses, he added, although it will continue requiring students to fill out a self-assessment survey of symptoms upon their daily arrival to campus.

“We don’t feel that’s our role [to require vaccinations],” Boyd said. ”We trust students to make the right decision for themselves.”

He said the surveys will help the college continue its contact tracing efforts and also serve as a reminder that students should continue taking seriously the precaution of staying home when sick.

“We realize this [pandemic] is not over,” Boyd said. “We are distinctly aware that we are not on the other side of this yet.”

Boyd said that nothing has changed in terms of the college’s plans for the fall after guidance from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board was issued Monday.

The agencies “strongly encourage” colleges and universities to require vaccinations to protect campus populations and slow COVID-19 transmission in surrounding communities.

“We appreciate the new emphasis on local control,” Boyd said. “Leaders are allowed to make decisions in the context of what is going on in their communities. We understand local context matters.”

Boyd noted that KCC is a commuter campus, not a residential one, and therefore has different concerns than places like the University of Illinois System, which has announced it will require vaccinations for in-person learning.

Other state schools that have made the same announcement include Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University, among others.

While Olivet Nazarene University has a residential campus, it will not be mandating students get vaccinated, though it will continue testing students for COVID-19 weekly.

David Pickering, ONU’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the university will continue its weekly COVID-19 saliva tests from last spring semester, along with quarantine and isolation procedures when close contacts or positive cases arise.

“Our goal is to give students as normal of a college experience as possible while also maintaining a safe environment,” he said.

Students will have to fill out a survey letting the university know about their vaccination status, as vaccinated students can opt out of the weekly tests, Pickering said.

The saliva tests are “super easy” for students to complete, he noted, requiring they spit into a tube once per week and drop the tests off at collection points on campus.

The university’s biology department runs the tests, and students are informed upon a positive test result that they need to see a nurse.

ONU is also following CDC guidance in that vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks, he said.

Pickering said the expectation on campus is that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks; however, similar to grocery stores and other community establishments, it will be based on trust and not strictly enforced.

“The [state] guidance said we are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines, and that is currently what we are doing,” he said.

The fall semester begins Aug. 9 for KCC and Sept. 1 for ONU.

Apparel manufacturer eyeing Kankakee

KANKAKEE — A company dedicated to bringing apparel manufacturing back to the U.S. is looking to possibly locate its headquarters and a manufacturing site in Kankakee.

Pleneri, an open digital platform company, has been developing for the past six years to become a complete operating manufacturer. Approximately 98 percent of apparel manufacturing is done overseas, and Pleneri wants to change that.

Pleneri has been in the discussion stages with the City of Kankakee, and three of its executives gave a presentation Thursday to the City Council’s Economic Development committee at the Donald. E. Green Public Safety Center.

“We want to build manufacturing, and we want to transform the industry so that we can bring apparel manufacturing back to the U.S.,” said Tom Ramunno, co-founder of Pleneri. “There are a myriad of reasons, and the opportunity is huge. The global apparel business is $7 trillion at retail, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.

“It’s bigger than oil and gas, bigger than automotive, it’s bigger than aerospace and defense.”

Other Pleneri officials at the meeting were Pat McKee, chief legal officer, and Emily Sifrit, chief creative officer. Sifrit, who lives in Manteno, has experience in the industry as an independent fashion designer and is now partnering with Pleneri.

“It was Emily and her colleagues that disrupted the market and became the force to be reckoned with out of a major couple trillion dollar U.S. market,” Ramunno said. “Emily’s segment represents over half that. That’s what our target is. It’s a trillion dollar universe that we’re focused on.”

Pleneri is still in the site selection phase of its manufacturing development, and it has looked at space in the Clock Tower Centre in downtown Kankakee.

McKee said the company is looking for up to 10,000 square feet of space for its back office operations that would house the CEO, senior-level personnel to designers, accountants and bookkeepers. It would be approximately 25 employees in the office.

In addition, one of Pleneri’s manufacturing facilities of roughly 35,000 square feet would be located in the area, employing approximately 150.

“So, ultimately, within a year, two years, we’re looking to expand to hopefully hundreds of jobs in the vicinity at least two facilities if not three and bringing those kinds of benefits to Kankakee,” McKee said. “It’s amazing in dealing with the folks in Kankakee that we have. This is really a vibrant community, moving in the direction of clean, lean manufacturing with an artistic bent.

“And we literally have talked to dozens if not hundreds of other municipalities, including up to the state level. All of which are eager listeners but don’t get it as well as the two folks that we’ve been dealing with from Kankakee. It’s been a pleasure to be here each and every time we’ve come.”

Sifrit has more than 20 years experience in fashion design and has her own company e.Kaye Collection. She is now partnering with Pleneri, after hearing it was looking at small scale manufacturing in the Chicago area.

“That’s how I started conversations with Tom, and everything just sort of came together,” she said. “At that point what I realized is where they were in their phases, and they were looking for somebody just like me so it worked out very well. What this offers me is the ability to the ability to have 100 pieces made very quickly [close to home]. ... There’s a handful of ways you really make it in this business, and this offers a lot more.”

Pleneri is also interested in working with Kankakee Community College to help train its workforce. Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of the Community Development Agency for the City of Kankakee, said Pleneri will be making a decision on its site selection in the next four weeks.

“This is where we want to be,” Ramunno said. “Seriously, you know the people that ‘get it.’ I mean that seriously. You have welcomed us with open arms. We’ve had nothing but transparent conversations.”

Kankakee police investigate homicide

KANKAKEE — One man is dead and another man arrested following a shooting Friday morning in the 600 block of South Poplar Avenue, according to Kankakee police.

Rayshun D. Williams, 35, was pronounced dead at 9:14 a.m. at Riverside Medical Center. Williams died of multiple gunshot wounds, Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said.

Police arrested 30-year-old Lyn Love and charges are pending, police said.

Love drove himself to AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee for treatment of a gunshot wound, police said. Police were notified at the scene of the shooting after responding to the residence for an unknown problem.

They found Williams had been shot and he was transported to Riverside.

Preliminary information gathered by detectives indicated Love forcibly entered the residence and confronted Williams, police said. During the confrontation, both men were struck by gunfire.

Love fled the residence and drove himself to the hospital, according to police.

Police said it is believed the shooting was a result of a domestic-related issue involving Williams, Love and a woman known to both of them.

It is the eighth homicide that has occurred in Kankakee County this year.

The shooting remains under investigation, and Illinois State Police Crime Scene Services is assisting investigators.