A Cathedral Church in NYC Turns into Field Hospital

CBS News
April 07, 2020 - 11:33 am

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City is being turned into an emergency field hospital. The "mother church" of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and the seat of its bishop, will be able to hold at least 200 patients. 

The dean of the cathedral, Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, told The New York Times that nine medical tents will be set up inside the church's nave —where thousands of chairs normally seat worshipers — by the end of the week. The cathedral's crypt, which runs below the 600-foot-long nave, will act as a "staging area" for medical personnel, he said. 

St. John the Divine is the largest cathedral in the world, and is one of the five largest church buildings "measured by length or internal volume," according to its website.

New York City as of Tuesday has over 68,000 active cases of the coronavirus and at least 3,485 deaths, according to data compiled. by Johns Hopkins University. The city's high number of cases has made it the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, and required the creation of several emergency field hospitals, including a Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort. 

"Amid the coronavirus pandemic and an overwhelmed health care system, the Cathedral has offered the use of its grounds and the Cathedral building itself to help serve our neighbors' most pressing needs," the cathedral said in a blog post. "The Church stepped up to meet health care needs in the City of New York in the past, and we pledge to continue to step up in the present crisis."

Located next door to Mount Sinai Hospital in the city's Morningside Heights neighborhood, the church will begin welcoming patients by the end of the week, Daniel said. 

Lisa Schubert, the cathedral's vice president of programming and external relations, told the Episcopal News Service it is still unknown whether the available beds will be used for COVID-19 patients, or to relieve the hospital of other patients. "Everything is happening in real time," she said. "What we knew a week ago is very different from what we know now."

To set up the field hospital, St. John the Divine has partnered with Mount Sinai and Samaritan's Purse, the evangelical Christian relief organization that has also set up medical tents in New York City's Central Park. Samaritan's Purse is run by Franklin Graham, son of the influential evangelist Billy Graham and a prominent supporter of President Trump. 

Graham's history of anti-Muslim and anti-gay rhetoric prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio to seek assurances from Samaritan's Purse that it would abide by the city's anti-discrimination laws while providing treatment. Daniel told The Times that the cathedral's partnership with Graham's organization does not indicate endorsement of its views.

"I don't agree with their position on Muslims and gays and a number of other things, but I am willing to work together with them to save lives," he said. "I feel like it is sort of like the steward on the Titanic as it is sinking — now is not the time to count the silverware, you have to get people into lifeboats."

Daniel said in a statement to Episcopal News Service that cathedrals have long served as places of "refuge and healing in times of plague and community crisis."

"The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is stepping up now, as we always have, to help support our diverse and beloved community and the community of doctors, nurses and volunteers risking their health and well-being in the service of the people of New York City in our hour of need."