PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 trends downward in Rhode Island, the state’s largest hospital group has announced plans to lift restrictions on elective surgeries.

Lifespan suspended those procedures for the last six weeks and only performed emergency surgeries. Dr. William Cioffi, the surgeon-in-chief at Rhode Island and The Miriam Hospitals, said they’ll now start going through semi-urgent procedures.

“The decision was made last week along with the Department of Health,” he said. “These are cases like hernia surgery, gall bladder surgery, hand surgery, things that certainly affect a patient’s quality of life but could safely be put off for a period of time.”

There are still some limitations, however, since they’re only doing outpatient surgeries, according to Cioffi. There are also many safety precautions in place.

“All patients will have to get screened on the phone first, and they are getting a coronavirus test,” he said. “We’re doing this in parts of the hospital that have not been caring for coronavirus patients, so from a safety perspective, I just don’t think it can be done in a more safe manner.”

Cioffi said even though they have a backlog of 1,000 to 2,000 surgeries, he believes things are moving in the right direction.

He also urged people to seek medical help if they need it.

“What we can’t lose sight of in this whole thing is that there are non-COVID problems that people have,” Cioffi said. “Whether it’s cancer screening or chronic disease treatment, these things are just as important and we need to be able to do it in a safe environment, and more importantly, let the public know it’s OK to come have these things done.”

Cioffi said they hope to start doing inpatient surgeries within the next two or three weeks, but in order to do that, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations must continue to decrease.