Social distancing isn’t part of the plan for dozens of homeless people who spend their nights in the terminals of Kennedy Airport amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“Right now, if I sleep on the outside what do you think is going to happen to me? I get the sickness,” said a former taxi driver who has been sleeping in the arrivals area of Terminal 4 for the past few weeks. “There’s a virus going around. But right here, they spray things to protect the passengers.”
The travel hub — the country’s busiest airport for international travel — is still a popular sleeping spot for many New Yorkers who have no other place to go.
Unlike the homeless people who find refuge in the city’s subways or parks, these vagabonds are largely invisible. Many of them blend in with travelers on long layovers on the public side of security gates, mostly undisturbed by police.
“The main appeal of JFK is you can be pretty passed out at your worst state — you can look gross — and it’s normal because there are so many people who are just stuck on long layovers,” said a well-kept man in his 40s who spends half his nights at JFK.
But as the coronavirus crisis turns into a global pandemic, the airport’s unofficial residents are left exposed at a port of entry that until recently served more than 170,000 passengers a day.
A traveler who flew out of JFK on Wednesday night tested positive for the disease, prompting the Port Authority to launch a deep clean of the airport. Earlier this week, Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority, which runs JFK, tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Tuesday night, a day before Trump announced a temporary ban on travelers from Europe, Pasaud was camped out towards the back of a row of benches near the arrivals area of Terminal 4, which serves more than 30 international airlines.
“Shelters are dangerous, but now what?" asked the well-kept man in his 40s. "People will care about me because of the coronavirus? You didn’t care about my poverty or loneliness because those traits aren’t contagious. You only care about this because you can catch it.”