Gov. Andrew Cuomo said COVID-19 hospitalizations and daily deaths have fallen to their lowest numbers in months. Credit: Facebook

Dentists across New York State will be allowed to reopen on Monday, one of the final health care services to come off their pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday.

Cuomo also said the number of hospitalizations and fatalities in New York State from COVID-19 has continued to decline. But many regions, including Long Island, still have limits on nonessential services and gatherings as restrictions are slowly loosened by the state.

Dentists' offices will be required to follow state guidelines on safety and social distance, Cuomo said in a statement issued after his daily news briefing in Albany.

"It's wonderful news for patients, but dentist offices will need to understand what it takes to be safe," said Dr. Scott Asnis, CEO of New Hyde Park-based Dental365, which has 48 dental offices in New York and Connecticut, 32 of which are on Long Island. "It is not easy."

Asnis said Dental365 offices have performed about 8,000 emergency procedures during the pandemic.

"We have an air-cleaning system that disinfects rooms completely, ask patients to wait in their car, have patients wash their hands and rinse before being seen," he said. "The patients will expect this."

Dr. Mark J. Feldman, executive director of the New York State Dental Association, said the group has spent weeks asking the state to let dentists resume their work.

"With recent COVID-19 experience treating emergency cases, along with additional PPE and safety protocols, dentists are well prepared to safely reopen their practices, relying on our long history of infection control and adherence to strict precautions for assuring the safety of patients, doctors and staff," he said in a statement.

Dr. Joe Brofsky, a pediatric dentist at Northwell Health and vice president of the Nassau County Dental Society, welcomed the news.

"We've stalled a lot of patients who need work," Brofsky said. "This causes more problems, and with little kids, cavities grow really fast."

But Dr. Alan Kantro, who runs a dental practice in Deer Park, said there will be challenges to reopening.

"People are still scared," Kantro said. "We won't open until we get the PPEs in place and can also keep patients and staff safe."

Kantro, who hopes to by open by the end of June, said he is also waiting for an extra-oral suction machine that would collect the aerosol spray that patients let off when they're getting treatment.

Dentists said being closed throughout the pandemic will also lead to a backlog of routine patient visits, including cleanings. Asnis said his offices will need to extend hours to meet the pent-up demand.

"We'll be doing cleanings on holidays," he said.

Earlier in the day, Cuomo recounted statistics that show the reduction of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the state, crediting New Yorkers for adhering to strict — and often frustrating — social distancing mandates. He said 56 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 on Saturday. 

"Which is, in this absurd reality we live in, actually very, very good news," Cuomo said, pointing out the number of COVID-19 deaths in April was about 800 a day.

"This reduction in the number of deaths is tremendous progress from where we were," he said. "We have gone through hell and back, but we are on the other side. It's a lesson for all of us."

Cuomo also noted that 60 days ago, about 3,400 people were being hospitalized because of the pandemic.

"Yesterday we had 191," Cuomo said. "Who made all that progress? ... It wasn't government. It was we the people."

Also on Sunday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said there are now 269 people being treated for COVID-19 in county hospitals, or a decrease of six in the 24 hours going back to May 29.

Another 111 people tested positive for the virus, which Bellone said is an uptick from what had been the daily increase of less than 100 people.

The total number of county residents testing positive is now 39,646, which doesn’t include the 13,959 testing positive for antibodies.

“Nassau County continues to move in the right direction, recording a new low of 317 hospitalizations with only 2% of all new cases testing positive," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement. "To date there have been a total of 40,396 confirmed positive cases — approximately 3% of the county’s population. My administration is laser focused on continuing Nassau’s phased reopening and getting people back to work as quickly and safely as possible.”

Sunny skies and warm temperatures Sunday lured people to beaches and parks, where capacity has been slashed to ensure social distancing. By 3 p.m., state parks including Caleb Smith, Connetquot River, Planting Fields Arboretum, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Caumset, Orient Beach, Hempstead Lake, Valley Stream, Belmont Lake, Shadmoor, Montauk Point, Camp Hero, Amsterdam Beach, Wildwood and Hallock were full and closed to incoming visitors and traffic.

New York State Park campsites, cabin and cottages will open Monday for people who have existing reservations, the parks department said on its website. New reservations will be accepted for a limited number of cottages and RV sites on Monday as well, with additional availability throughout the summer.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not provide an update on the state of the coronavirus pandemic at a news briefing on Sunday morning. Instead, he discussed the protests that fanned out over the city for the third day on Saturday over the police killing of an unarmed African American man in Minneapolis.

But he said anger over the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color might have helped fuel the protests.

“You have all of the frustrations about injustice combined with the frustrations about the injustice within the pandemic, because the pandemic displayed immense disparity, combined with the fact that people spent two months cooped up indoors,” he said.

With Jesse Coburn and Rachelle Blidner

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