As America braces for what seems like an inevitable surge of severe COVID-19 cases, healthcare providers have been doing everything they can to prepare. Still, some hospital groups were continuing to perform elective surgeries.

But on Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- officially recommended that all hospitals suspend all non-essential surgeries to help keep resources available for the coming wave of coronavirus patients.

Elective surgeries, which include non-emergency operations such as joint replacements, cataract surgeries, and ligament repairs, are a profitable business for hospital groups. The new CMS guideline would still allow hospitals to perform surgeries for conditions that could become life-threatening, such as early-stage cancer tumor removal or replacing a faulty heart valve.

A nurse working in a hospital operating room.

Image source: Getty Images.

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams called on hospitals across the country to drastically reduce the number of elective surgeries they perform in light of the pandemic. Healthcare systems in other countries, most notably Italy, have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of severe COVID-19 cases. Healthcare officials are justifiably worried that something similar could happen in the U.S.

Certain hospital companies, such as HCA Healthcare (HCA -2.71%), have seen their share prices slide over the past few weeks as the pandemic continued to spread. However, some niche companies in the healthcare sector such as telehealth provider Teladoc have shot up considerably. Over the past month, the Dow Jones has lost around a third of its total value, and the broader S&P 500 index is down by about 28%.

This week, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a second coronavirus relief package that extends unemployment and paid-leave benefits to many U.S. workers, and also mandated free COVID-19 testing across the country. A much larger economic relief package is currently in the works.