There are some positives from COVID-19 other than test results.


Isolation and a laundry list of restrictions have sparked an urge for hands-on-the-wheel freedom on the open road.


Recreational vehicles sales are an example, with regional dealers reporting a sharp spike in sales from a year ago.


Dealers contacted attribute sales increases of more than 50 percent to the pandemic, which they believe has sparked a mindset change by many people when it comes to travel.


"It is actually the positive thing," said Tina Rose, manager at Riverside Camping Center on US 70 East. "The market is wide open right now, mainly I think because it belongs to the person. They can go where they want to go."


She reports booming business, which spiked early in the year, dipped with the pandemic shutdown in March and April, and then returned at high volume the past two months.


Rose said sales are up 50 to 60 percent over this time in 2019, which she called "a great year."


"All this stuff has just put a new perspective on people’s lives, the way they want to spend it with their families." she said. "Feeling like you’re blocked in your house and can’t go anywhere, you can’t stay anywhere, so an RV, you clean it, you sleep in it. And it’s less expensive, the way most people travel. Hotels can get quite expensive and you’re eating out three meals a day. And, there are no restrictions on campgrounds right now, which is good."


She pointed out that by their layout, campgrounds have built-in social distancing.


RVs are also a stable fallback for hurricane evacuation.


Jeff Coltenback, a professional dog trainer who also rescues pit bulls, has been in the motorized RV search market for several months.


He traveled from Wilmington to Riverside earlier this week to look at a 25-foot motorhome, which can be easily converted to house eight dogs in an evacuation or other emergency.


During a previous approaching hurricane, he and his wife wanted to evacuate with rescue dogs, but rental vans were long gone.


He said the pandemic confirmed his idea to go the motor home route.


Freedom of mobility choice again took the lead.


"With the pandemic, that actively thrust me into shopping for one," he said. "That got us off the fence to start looking. The primary thing was there were so many restrictions on travel. So, we can pretty much get up and go anytime we want. We don’t have to worry about a hotel, with dogs."


A motorhome gives him the space and air control without having to look for an animal shelter space inland.


"Plus, we can use it if we want to get away for a few days," he said.


The RV boom is evident all along the coast.


"RV sales are up, nobody wants to fly, do hotels or cruise right now," said John Howard, owner of Howard RV in Wilmington for more than 40 years. "Our traffic is probably almost double what it was this time last year.


He said sales were up 50 to 60 percent, about 22 to 24 compared to 10 to 15 units on a normal month in the past. He said that trend is also national, although there is a lag time of about 45 days for posting of nationwide sales.


The pandemic has driven consumers.


"We had a big goose egg in April, zero sales," he said, adding that May returned to normal and June has exploded.


"People who have thought about it, now is the time to do it, or a husband and wife where one wanted to do it and now they want to see America," he said. "There are a lot of people with money out there."


Customers have told him they want the freedom of their own home on wheels, such as being able to take their pet. Hotels that do allow pets don’t do so cheaply.


With the motor homes, he pointed out that owners can turn on the AC via generator and go to restaurants or other places.


Many sales are repeat customers, especially couples who are downsizing, just as they would with a house. While the 40-foot range RVs was the rage a decade ago, there has been a trend toward those in the 25-foot range.


"You can also use it as a second car and if you go to a campground and there are 100 sites, only a quarter of those can accommodate the large RVs," he said. "If you have a 30-foot or less, you have the run of the campground."


Howard said all sales are up, especially motor homes, along with those that are towed such as travel trailers.


The RV Industry Association reported that April was a terrible month across the country, with shipments of total RVs, tow-able and motor homes, going down 82 percent from a year ago, 40,200 to 7,200.


The upswing has been noted, although May and June statistics are not yet available.


Gladys Styons at Crisp RV Center in Chocowinity echoed the upswing in sales, tempered by a concern on getting campers and parts from manufacturers, just recovering from pandemic manufacturing shutdowns.


Crisp specializes in tow-able travel trailers and Fifth Wheels, which is a camper in which the front end is over the bed of the truck. Crisp also has pre-owned motor homes.


Styons said they are now getting campers, with nine on back order, mostly from Indiana plants that were closed upwards of two months.


"They have set their process up, working on Saturdays and my understanding is they are running two shifts trying to get caught up," she said.


Still, sales continue as production and shipments slowly return to normal.


"We sold two last week we hadn’t received and the customers picked them up the next day," she said. "So, we are selling them before we get them."


Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or charlie.hall@newbernsj.com. Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.