Outdoor Rec Industry Pitches In During Outbreak

Apr 1, 2020

Outdoor retailers best known for manufacturing gear and clothing for recreation enthusiasts are providing temporary housing and personal protective equipment for health care workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

From recreational vehicles for traveling medical personnel to surgical masks and shoes, a thriving industry that generates billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the country's economy now is helping protect first responders.

Quality ski masks, headlamps, sturdy hiking shoes, and other outdoor gear and accessories are "a nice to have" in nonpandemic times, said Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

But in this crisis, she said, they've become necessary to help people on the front lines do their jobs safely.

Wahl said the outdoor industry traditionally has worked with the armed services to provide personal protective equipment like helmets and headlamps to military members. "A lot of those same products can help law enforcement and public health officials" during the COVID-19 emergency, Wahl said.

In particular, the recreational vehicle (RV) industry, which includes manufacturers, dealers, service centers, parks and campgrounds, is stepping up, according to Wahl.

"RV parks, camps and marinas are playing a vital role for traveling medical personnel because hotels are closed," she said. RVs can be used as housing for essential workers or as medical facilities for patients.

For instance, Airstream, an American travel trailer manufacturer, donated two Nest trailers — which sell for about $45,900 each — to Wilson Health in Ohio to conduct COVID-19 testing in Shelby County.

California, Louisiana and Texas have all purchased RVs to use during the pandemic. It's not the first time RVs and motor homes have been conscripted into service in a disaster; most recently, they were used during Hurricane Maria and Superstorm Sandy. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 spawned the ubiquitous Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer.

"During times of disaster, state and local agencies have used RVs to aid as local command centers, portable offices, temporary housing and other critical uses," RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby wrote in a March 18 letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Kirby said the association would donate "20 RVs to the most critical health care settings in the country" and would "provide an additional 100 RVs, at below market cost, to the settings deemed most critical by the Task Force."

Ensuring the entire RV industry is considered essential business right now is also an important part of the association's advocacy, said Monika Geraci, senior manager for marketing strategy and operations for the RV Industry Association.

"We are reaching across governments — federal, state and local — to say, 'We are here and can quickly meet this demand,'" Geraci said.

The RV industry on March 20 was able to convince California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania that RV parks are essential, reversing the states' initial decisions to close the areas. And the community has asked the federal government to deem all aspects of the RV industry essential businesses.

Check out the full article from E&E News here.