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Even as COVID-19 infection and death tolls continue to grow higher, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday afternoon he and the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are creating a multi-state council to work together on re-opening the region's economy.

“We cannot act on our own," Murphy said. "Even if we give ourselves an A+ that won’t be enough. This is incredibly important that we coordinate This must be a truly regional effort.”

Late Monday afternoon it was announced Massachusetts is joining the multi-state council.

Murphy said as the number of novel coronavirus infections and hospitalizations decline as expected in the coming weeks — though exactly when that will start remains up in the air — and plans move forward to begin to phasing-in business openings, it’s important that all states in the region have an integrated plan.

No specific plans were discussed about how stay-at-home directives will be lifted, but Murphy said “we must be smart and tactical in our region comes out of this, or else we are risk of a COVID-19 boomerang, and we’ll be right back to square one — and that’s the last thing we need.”

Murphy last month ordered all schools to close to in-person learning, all retail businesses deemed non-essential to shut down, and all workplaces to have as much of their workforce as possible do their jobs from home. Those restrictions followed less severe rules and directives in the early part of the month.

The governor stressed even as re-opening plans begin to take shape, following the current social distancing and stay-home directives are essential.

The plan — or rather, the plan to build a plan — calls for each state to name a public health professional and an economic expert to join the governors' chiefs of staff on an advisory council.

“Our region is one of the most important economic regions in the entire country if not the entire world, and we are all intertwined, so I thank the governors," Murphy said.

New Jersey currently has the second-most coronavirus cases in the United States, after New York.

When asked about a tweet from President Donald Trump on Monday saying decision to re-open the economy was his, and not the individual states, Murphy said his first responsibility is to have a plan to ensure the safety and security of New Jersey’s 9 million residents.

“And I certainly hope, I’m very optimistic we can do it in good harmonization with regional partners, and would hope we could do that as well in harmony with the federal government.”

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