NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Flights to New York City were temporarily halted Saturday due to coronavirus-related staffing issues.

The Federal Aviation Administration told air traffic controllers to “stop all departures” to John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and other regional airports.

CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

The directive was lifted about 30 minutes later. It also impacted Philadelphia International Airport.

The order coming after an air traffic controller trainee tested positive for the virus.

Almost all arrivals were either canceled or had to rescheduled.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text 692692 | Westchester Testing Call 1(888)-364-3065 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Case Tracker | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211

The employee that tested positive works at a control tower in Long Island and tested positive Saturday for COVID-19. The FAA says the individual has not been at the facility since March 17 and that flights into New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia were put on hold as federal officials worked to disinfect the tower in Ronkonkoma, New York.

“The FAA has initiated traffic management initiatives for sectors closed during the sanitization process. Flights will be rerouted as part of a longstanding contingency plan to ensure continued operations,” the agency said in a statement. “The center primarily handles high-altitude, cross-country flights. Each facility across the country has a contingency plan that has been recently updated and tested.”

Several passengers who were mid-flight when the news broke say they had been re-routed back to their original city. Karen Alegre, a nurse at NYU Langone, was rushing home to take care of patients.

“On the airplane that we were still on, there weren’t a lot of people in there, maybe 10. I think we all kind of spaced out and kept our distance. I’ve been really good at washing my hands even more. I mean, my hands are so dry. When I see anyone walking with a mask, I try to just kind of keep my distance. It’s all the best that we can do,” she told CBS2. “I’m not surprised to hear that someone in there tested positive. There’s a lot of people in New York. I guess I was just a little disheartened because I really wanted to get home and get back to work.”

The FAA is warning delays like this could happen more frequently in the future as coronavirus continues to spread and other air traffic controllers are inevitably infected.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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