By Liz Lucking
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the latest iconic New York City location to be repurposed as a field hospital to assist the city in handling the increased capacity of hospital beds needed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases in the city reached 80,204, and the number of deaths 4,260, as of Wednesday evening, according to the department of health.
“In order to help address the overflow of patients in our hospitals, Samaritan’s Purse and Mount Sinai Health System are working together to establish a second field hospital respiratory care unit at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which will be run as a part of Mount Sinai,” the hospital said in a statement. The famously unfinished cathedral is across the street from Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital.
However, when asked if they could confirm that they are working with Mount Sinai to set up the field hospital, Samaritan’s Purse told MarketWatch it was “not confirmed.”
The evangelical Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse—which worked with Mount Sinai on a field hospital in Central Park—is run by Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham.
The group’s statement of faith, available on their website, espouses anti-LGBT rhetoric, noting that “we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
“While our organizations may have differences of opinions, when it comes to COVID-19 we are fully united: we will care for everyone and no patients or staff will be discriminated against,” said Mount Sinai.
An inquiry to the cathedral was not immediately returned.
New York City is in the midst of undertaking the herculean task of upping hospital bed capacity from 20,000 beds to 85,000 by May to handle the influx of coronavirus cases, and pop-up emergency hospitals have become crucial to the endeavor.
Though positive statistics have begun to emerge, such as lower-than-predicted ventilator use and a stabilizing in the number of new hospitalizations for respiratory illness, Mayor Bill de Blasio has cautioned against overconfidence.
“We have to be careful not to take this initial information and make more of it than we should,” the mayor said Wednesday morning. “It is only based on a few days, and it’s only initial information. It’s not something we can draw much bigger conclusions from.”
“This is still going to be a very long battle,” he said.
Certainly the most recognizable of the facilities being utilized as part of the effort to increase hospital beds is the USNS Comfort, the gargantuan navy ship that docked at Pier 88 on Manhattan’s West Side on March 30. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that the Comfort would be taking on COVID-19 patients. Cuomo said 500 beds would be available on the ship.
A few blocks south on 12th Avenue, a further 2,500 beds for coronavirus patients are in the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
In Queens, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will see 12 courts and around 100,000 square feet of space converted into 250 hospital beds, according to the U.S. Open. With the first 150 beds close to completion, the first COVID-19 patients are expected to be admitted on Friday.
Then there’s the surreal set of white tents on Central Park’s East Meadow. The 14-tent unit is the culmination of the work of Mount Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse and houses a 68-bed respiratory care unit for COVID-19 patients.
At the end of March, Cuomo announced that four more locations had been approved as emergency hospital facilities, the New York Expo Center in the Bronx, the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and the College of Staten Island.
All are considered overflow facilities, designed to take regular patients from traditional hospitals when they’re inundated with coronavirus cases.