Officials from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine had announced on Monday that the cathedral would serve as a field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients at the end of the week. But before its doors even opened for COVID-19 patients, plans were abruptly canceled, as public health officials said that the slowing rate of virus-related hospitalizations in the city made them reassess the need for the project.
According to statements given to the New York Times, however, Episcopal leaders at the cathedral were also upset by the involvement of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian humanitarian organization whose members have been criticized for anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric. The Episcopal Church did not know of the organization’s involvement in the project at the time it offered the use of the cathedral to Mount Sinai.
Kaitlyn Lahm, a spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse, said that the group decided not to open the field hospital at the cathedral “after further discussions and assessment,” but did not specify what led to this change. She told reporters at the Times that the group does not discriminate in providing treatment.
“We continue to partner with Mount Sinai Health at our Central Park emergency field hospital and will work with them to establish more treatment capacity if needed,” Lahm said.
New York City, bracing for the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, currently has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world, reaching 68,776 confirmed cases, 15,333 hospitalizations, and 2,738 deaths, according to the city health department. The state has the largest projected Intensive Care Unit bed shortages in the United States, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The cathedral, which is the largest Gothic structure in the world and the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, will be used as a hospital for over 200 patients. While it is the first time in the cathedral’s history that it is being used as a hospital, churches have often been used as hospital facilities in the past, according to the New York Times.
The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III, the dean of the cathedral, told the New York Times that nine climate-controlled medical tents will be assembled in the cathedral’s nave and subterranean crypt by the end of the week. The crypt will also be transitioned into a “staging area,” or location for medical personnel to base themselves.
Although it is unclear whether COVID-19 patients will be sent to the cathedral, church leadership is “assuming” so, given the scale of the pandemic.
“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,” Daniel wrote.
In the past, Samaritan’s Purse has been criticized for anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric espoused by its reverend, Franklin Graham. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the organization has assured the city that it intends to follow New York City’s anti-discrimination laws.
Although the rhetoric of Samaritan's Purse stands in contrast to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine’s more progressive vision, Daniel told the New York Times that the cathedral does not endorse its views, but that it is “willing to work together with them to save lives.”