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How Portage County is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact tied to KSU: 88 Counties in 88 Days

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Portage County community -- especially for the many businesses connected to Kent State University.

PORTAGE COUNTY, Ohio — This content is part of our 88 Counties in 88 Days coverage, which focuses on the current issues Ohioans are facing in this election year.

Kent is the largest city in Portage County, and home to Kent State University. The higher learning institution is an important part of this community, and the true impact was felt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year.

“Without the university, most of these businesses wouldn’t be what they are today,” explains Charlie Thomas, the owner of Ray’s Place.

The hometown restaurant and bar has called Kent home for decades, even longer than the 42 years Thomas has been in charge.

“The more that’s on campus, obviously, the better because then you have more professors in the area, you have more support at the university, whether it’s in HR (human resources) whether it’s maintenance, whether its instructors whatever, so there’s a lot more of that. So it increases the amount of people you have a chance to capture for business.”

RELATED: 88 Counties in 88 Days: A look at the state of Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic, social movement, and an upcoming election

The spring semester changed everything when classes went from mostly in-person to mostly online. Some students packed up and moved out.

Thomas says the pandemic has been tough on everyone.

“Where I used to plan a week or six weeks or a month or two months or a year out, I’m planning to see how I can survive until the next day.”

Kent State University’s Steering Reopening Committee Chairman Manfred Van Dolmen says they’ve had to be flexible with many things.

“It certainly is a roller coaster, and we are learning through this process we have to be feasible and there are many things that are outside of our control as well as in terms of how we’re moving forward,” he says.

This summer, more than 400 instructors went through training on how to better deliver remote courses. The university is also making sure staff and students have the technology needed.

“We’re really operating in sort of the hybrid environment where some of our courses are in person, but the large majority of our courses are remote,” Van Dolmen explains.