The COVID-19 pandemic has forced hospitals to postpone thousands of knee replacement and hip replacement surgeries, costing healthcare providers billions of dollars, reports Calfornia Healthline. Safety concerns at hospitals across the United States have prompted patients and doctors to delay the procedures, resulting in revenue losses exceeding $5 billion.

Knee and hip replacements doubled between 2000 and 2015, making the surgeries a key revenue source for many U.S. hospitals. With patients paying as much as $70,000 for knee replacement surgery, hospitals are desperate to get patients back through their doors and start performing surgery again. While healthcare providers do not publish data on their revenues from orthopedic surgery, some have estimated that the knee replacement market size in the United States is as large as $21.5 billion per year.

With numbers that large, and with knee replacement surgeries are expected to triple by 2040 (according to the Journal of Rheumatology), it’s easy to see why many in the healthcare sector are clamoring to get back to pre-COVID levels of hip and knee replacement surgery. But is joint replacement surgery safe during COVID-19?

Most hip and knee replacement surgeries are elective. While they may result in a dramatic improvement in quality of life for patients, osteoarthritis is not considered a medical emergency. As such, many joint replacement surgeries have been rescheduled as a result of the coronavirus. Patients may cancel their surgeries due to fear of catching the virus, or hospitals may cancel surgeries as a matter of policy.

Even so, hospitals are taking serious precautions to ensure safety for all patients. In many cases, surgical patients have their own separate entrances, treatment areas, and care teams. Hospital staff is tested regularly, and practice mask-wearing and social distancing. With these safeguards in place, patients will likely never go near anyone who has been exposed to the coronavirus.

Ultimately, the decision to undergo elective surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic must be made by patients and their doctors only after careful consideration. Joint replacement surgery can change lives, so for some, the small risks may outweigh the rewards of increased mobility, happiness, and well-being.