Coronavirus briefly grounds flights to NYC-area and Philadelphia airports

Minyvonne Burke and Jay Blackman

Flights to all New York City-area and Philadelphia airports were briefly halted Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The agency temporarily grounded flights after it said Saturday that an air traffic controller trainee tested positive for the coronavirus. The trainee worked out of the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island.

"The trainee has not been at the facility since March 17. We have contacted local health authorities and we are developing a plan to quickly sanitize/clean the affected areas. The center remains open and operational," the FAA said.

The agency added that if it had to close any sectors of airspace during the sanitization process those flights would be rerouted.

"Each facility across the country has a contingency plan that has been recently updated and tested," the FAA said. "The safety of our staff and the traveling public is the FAA’s top priority."

Earlier this week, the air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport was closed temporarily for cleaning after several technicians tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

A temporary flight restriction was placed over the airport that allowed only the arrival and departure of commercial and other authorized flights. The restriction remains in place until March 26 but can be canceled at any time, the FAA said.