Minnesota buying $6.9M warehouse to store bodies during coronavirus pandemic

The overflow is in part due to social distancing making proper funerals impossible.

The State of Minnesota is finalizing an agreement to purchase an unidentified warehouse that will serve as "storage for human remains" during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The $6.9 million purchase serves as a grim reality that Minnesota is facing during the pandemic, though the facility will provide a proper place to store bodies of more than just COVID-19 victims. 

In a media call Friday, state officials say the reality is that because of social distancing, families who lose loved ones for a myriad of reasons haven't been able to hold proper memorials and funerals. That, coupled with increasing deaths from COVID-19, has led to funeral homes running out of room for bodies. 

"Because there's been a slowdown in the number of funerals and burials, for lack of a more delicate term, the storage in funeral homes and hospitals is, in some places, full and overflowing," explained Joe Kelly, director of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  

"We want to provide a facility where we can properly, safely and with the appropriate dignity and respect that we think we owe our fellow Minnesotans and their families, to temporarily store them until their families are ready to lay them to final rest." 

It's been 49 days since the first death confirmed by COVID-19 was reported Mar. 21 in Minnesota. Since then, a total of 534 people – through 4 p.m. Thursday – have died from the disease. 

Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday that he expects the state to reach 1,000 COVID-19 deaths by May 27. 

"I know this is a sensitive topic, it's an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people. We need to have a capability, we need to have a plan for a large number of deaths," Kelly added. 

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"If you consider some of the images that we've seen around the world and around the country, in places like Italy and New York, where they were not able to handle a surge of fatalities and had to bury people in shallow graves .... we just do not think that is acceptable." 

The $6.9 million purchase comes from a $200 million COVID-19 Minnesota Fund passed by legislators. The approximately $65 million remaining in the fund needs to be allocated by May 11, when the temporary budget is set to expire.

However, Walz is urging legislators to extend the deadline to utilize the funds.

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