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Plans canceled for field hospital inside New York's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

A New York City hospital has now canceled plans to turn the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City into an emergency facility for overflow patients. Mount Sinai Hospital said the change of plans is due to apparent progress in reducing the number of new infections.

"Given the most recent data, we are optimistic that we are seeing a flattening of the curve. As such, we are reassessing needs, resources and plans for how best to care for New Yorkers," hospital spokesperson Jason Kaplan told CBS News on Friday. 

On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed optimism that the state was now "bending the curve" of the coronavirus — but noted that it is still battling its worst effects. New York reported its highest single-day death toll, 779 deaths in one day, for the third day in a row on Wednesday. 

Kaplan said Mount Sinai "will continue to look for other ways to expand care as the pandemic continues to unfold. Our singular focus remains on helping all New Yorkers in this time of crisis and doing what we do best: saving lives."

The cathedral's sub-dean, Rev. Patrick Malloy, told Episcopal News Service that the decision not to move forward with the field hospital was made by Mount Sinai and Samaritan's Purse, the evangelical Christian relief organization that also set up medical tents in New York City's Central Park.

"Mount Sinai, which is investing a great deal of money in this (effort against COVID-19), has decided that, given the way the curve is falling, they could make better use of the money elsewhere, and Samaritan's Purse could partner with them more effectively elsewhere," Malloy told ENS. "There's been a change in the rate of admissions to hospitals and all sorts of things leading the hospital to make different decisions."

The church, which is located next door to Mount Sinai in the city's Morningside Heights neighborhood, had been preparing to begin welcoming patients by the end of the week. The "mother church" of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and the seat of its bishop, was set to hold at least 200 patients.

New York sees flattening virus curve, though deaths spike 04:12

Earlier this week, the dean of the cathedral, Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, told The New York Times that nine medical tents were to be set up inside the church's nave — where thousands of chairs normally seat worshipers. The cathedral's crypt, which runs below the 600-foot-long nave, was going to 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.

As of Thursday evening, New York City had 87,725 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 21,500 hospitalizations. The city's high number of cases has made it the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, and prompted 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."

James Gandolfini
A 2013 file photo of the interior of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on New York's Upper West Side. Richard Drew / AP

The charitable group involved in the plans, 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 did 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."

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