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Questions remain about 'temporary morgue' as COVID-19 deaths decline

Tom Hauser
Updated: June 30, 2020 06:29 PM
Created: June 30, 2020 04:32 PM

The administration of Gov. Tim Walz made a decision in May to spend up to $6.9 million to buy a building in St. Paul and convert it into a temporary morgue for a possible surge of COVID-19 victims.

The decision was largely based on a COVID-19 model by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Health that projects the possibility of 16,000 to 44,000 deaths over the first year of the pandemic.

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Then came June.

Instead of deaths surging, they dropped from 696 in May to 402 in June for a total so far of 1,411 since March. If one thing is certain about COVID-19, it's the uncertainty about what comes next. But for now, the decision to spend millions on the temporary morgue will continue to be a target for the governor's Republican critics in the legislature.

State finalizes agreement to buy storage facility for human remains

"We make a mistake as policymakers when we start spending millions of dollars in an effort to prepare for a problem that very likely will not happen," Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last month when the building purchase was underway. Jensen is also a physician who has long been skeptical of the state's COVID-19 projections.

At a news conference Monday, Walz defended the decision to buy a building with a capacity of 5,100 bodies for a surge that so far hasn't materialized.

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, if the critique is that I built that out and should not have done that, I will take that and I will own that," the governor said, likening the purchase to buying an insurance policy you hope you never need.

The building used to be a warehouse for the Bix Produce company that moved to Little Canada. Ramsey County assessed the property's value for 2020 at just under $5.2 million, a more than 13% increase over 2019 even though the building sat empty for more than a year.

The state paid nearly $5.5 million for the building and surrounding property.


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