Minnesota has completed the purchase of a 71,000-square-foot warehouse that will be used to store bodies during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
The building, a former Bix Produce warehouse in St. Paul, was purchased by the state for $5.5 million, though additional costs for building operations, maintenance and other expenses will bring the final price to $6.9 million.
In a media call earlier this month, state officials said 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 medical facilities 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," said Joe Kelly, director of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management, in a May 8 media briefing.
"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."
According to a request form from the Department of Administration, a survey of the state's funeral homes, medical examiner offices and hospitals found that the metro area has the capacity to store 1,262 bodies. The statewide capacity is 2,006 bodies. The request document, dated May 6, estimated that approximately 50% of the state's available storage was already filled.
The warehouse provides overflow capacity, serving as a temporary morgue for up to 5,100 bodies. As of Wednesday, 777 people have died from COVID-19 in Minnesota since Mar. 21.
The warehouse is located at 1415 L'Orient St. in St. Paul.
An estimated 75% of the price is expected to be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Under Gov. Tim Walz's Stay Safe MN order, funerals and memorial services are limited to a maximum of 10 people, with social distancing guidelines expected to be followed.