Minnesota leaders negotiating $6.9 million deal to store human remains amid pandemic

Minnesota is negotiating a $6.9 million deal to buy a warehouse to temporarily store human remains amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Homeland Security Director Joe Kelly said the volume of deaths and social distancing guidelines prohibiting full ceremonies had slowed the process of burials. Minnesota officials are trying to prevent a repeat of what's happened in other places, including New York, where mass burials were necessary, he said.

"For lack of a more delicate term, the storage in funeral homes and hospitals is in some cases full and overflowing," Kelly told reporters on a Friday afternoon conference call.

Kelly would not name the location of the warehouse, citing the ongoing negotiations with the property owner.

A legislative oversight commission made up of 10 top lawmakers approved the purchase on Thursday. The action was posted on the state's COVID-19 portal Friday morning.

Gov. Tim Walz said the topic was a "tough one" to discuss. Leasing a space wasn't an option, he said. 

"Why don’t you just lease something? Obviously, once you use something for human remains and the way they’re talking about converting this building, that makes that very difficult," Walz told reporters.

Minnesota has reported 534 deaths to date from the coronavirus, with 434 being residents of long-term care facilities. Another 198 people are currently hospitalized in critical care.

Walz seeks extension of funding

The state is buying the warehouse with money from Minnesota's COVID-19 Fund, which the Legislature initially stocked with $200 million in late March.
 
But the ability to spend money out of the fund, which still has $65 million in it, ends Monday. Walz asked lawmakers to "replenish and extend" the fund, but did not say how much more money was necessary or how long to extend it.
 
The fund has been used to buy personal protective equipment, lease a $1.8 million alternative care site in Roseville, and to sign a $36 million testing expansion deal with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic.