Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Mount Sinai Hospital chaplain Rocky Walker believes he's facing an even greater foe than he did nearly 30 years ago, when he served on the front lines of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
"I feel like I'm much closer to death now than I was then. Back then I was a field artillery lieutenant," Walker told Fox News. "With the COVID deaths today... These are all not just Americans, but these ... are innocent people."
Walker is one of several chaplains at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan's Upper East Side. He is on the front lines of this pandemic, providing spiritual and emotional support to patients and hospital staff in the city that never sleeps, which is the epicenter of America's outbreak.
All the chaplains help people of all different faiths, even those without any stated religion.
"My job is to try to figure that out ... read between the lines and then meet them where they are," he said. "All chaplains are trained to walk right alongside them where their faith is."
While most COVID-19 patients will recover – Mount Sinai has discharged at least 2,000 – many do not. And those are the ones Walker looks after, as he is the chaplain overseeing the intensive care unit. He sees the most severe cases of the disease, sometimes providing a FaceTime chat for families and loved ones.
He can't go into a patient's room, but through the glass doors can give families a view of their loved one.
"I'll walk right up to the door and I'll let them see their family members, which is oftentimes very hard to see someone they love hooked up to so many different machines," he said, adding that he uses his own phone of FaceTime calls. "And at that time, it's very personal between them and the family. Sometimes I pray with them. Sometimes I just let them look in."
Witnessing dozens of deaths has been difficult and painful for the staff. The hardest cases are when the end comes too quickly.
"There's been more than one for me that the patient dies before we could bring the family in," Walker said, choking back tears. "And that's hard."
As the virus continues to claim victims, his task is to help medical staff deal with the mounting battle fatigue. The chaplain staff has provided a small safe room for them where they can cry, scream, or just sit and ponder the existential reality.
Walker sees his job as a humbling spiritual responsibility.
He offers these heartfelt words in prayer:
"God you trust me to be with this person, right as they're coming to meet you," he said. "It's such an honor to me that all the people on Earth you would trust me to walk them or to walk with their family in this moment."