Temporary morgue in St. Paul used to store protective items instead of bodies

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Three Minnesota Republican lawmakers toured a temporary morgue building they’ve harshly criticized as a waste of taxpayer money.

Instead of storing up to 5,100 bodies as originally planned, it’s being used to store personal protective equipment like isolation gowns and masks.

“This is a consequence of emergency powers and the governor not working with the legislature,” Republican Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake says on a video posted on social media after the tour with Rep. Jim Nash of Waconia and Rep. Marion O’Neill of Maple Lake.

The tour with Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Commissioner of Administration Alice Roberts-Davis happened after the lawmakers insisted on seeing what the state got for a $6.9 million purchase. The news media has not been allowed in.

Questions remain about ‘temporary morgue’ as COVID-19 deaths decline

“It had a feel that they had a stack of Monopoly money and they wanted to go spend it,” Nash told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS after the tour.

The state bought the building in May when a COVID-19 model developed by the state and the University of Minnesota indicated there could be 1,000 deaths a week over the summer. It projected 29,000 deaths over 12 months, with a range from 16,000 to 44,000. The actual death numbers averaged 250 per month over the summer, with a total of 2,087 as of Tuesday.

“I get the impression they were basing what Minneapolis numbers or Minnesota numbers were going to be off what was happening in New York and maybe he had a case of morgue envy,” Nash said of the governor. “He wanted to go out and buy himself a morgue in case the numbers got really bad. The fact of the matter is it isn’t monopoly money.”

Governor Tim Walz views the purchase as an insurance policy bought at a time of great uncertainty in May.

State leaders planning to buy facility to possibly store human remains, but some senators critical of the plan

“When this is all done and COVID is contained and we move to that place where we can look back on this time,” the governor said in July. “If the critique is that I built that out and should not have done that I will take that and I will own that. I think it’s like insurance.”

A spokesman for the Department of Administration says the state plans to hold onto the building until the pandemic is over and continue to repurpose the 71,000 square foot building as necessary.