Gov. Gina Raimondo gives a recent briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.

PROVIDENCE — State officials on Saturday announced six new positive cases of coronavirus in Rhode Island, bringing the state’s total up to 20, with the newest cases involving four men and two women ranging in age from their 30s to 70s.

But while the coronavirus continues to spread across the state and country, Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott found a silver lining on Saturday, saying that the lone person in Rhode Island who has thus far required hospitalization for the virus has been discharged from the hospital.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo during Saturday afternoon’s press briefing at the Department of Administration building in Providence said that the increase in cases “shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

“There will be more cases. Rhode Islanders should know that,” Raimondo said. “The number of cases will depend on each and every one of us and whether we’re doing what we’ve been asked to do: staying home when you’re sick, social distancing, and avoiding crowds.”

Of the six new cases, four are men and two are women. They range in age from their 30s to 70s and three trips were involved – two separate domestic and one international vacation to Lisbon, Portugal, according to Alexander-Scott. Each are recovering at home, she said.

“This is the time right now that is most critical in making a difference in what will happen for us in Rhode Island in the subsequent months – everyone heeding these guidelines now makes a difference,” Alexander-Scott said. “The most important messaging we can provide is around everyone staying home and staying away from crowds.”

“All Rhode Islanders are being urged to avoid all crowded places, all large events, and mass gatherings. This is called social distancing. Everyone should be avoiding crowded places,” Alexander-Scott continued. “If you’re feeling a little bit off, this is 100 percent non-negotiable in terms of symptoms. Please stay home, the virus spreads by symptoms being spread from one person to another. Together we can stop the spread of this virus.”

In total, around 500 people in Rhode Island are in some form of self-quarantine, Alexander-Scott said, and more than 100 tests were completed on Friday alone.

While Saturday’s press briefing was the start of a now-daily media update from state leaders focusing on how to stop the spread of the virus – which as of Saturday had infected more than 155,000 people and killed more than 5,800 globally – the governor also looked back on the previous day’s announcement that public schools in Rhode Island would be closed for the coming week.

She urged students, particularly those in high school and college, to heed the advice of professionals and not use the week as a time to “take vacation and get together with all of your friends or meet out at a restaurant or meet out at a bar.”

“If you are doing that, you are missing the point of taking the week off,” Raimondo said. “I know this is inconvenient. It’s a time to hunker down your in homes, stay home, avoid crowds, watch movies at home, but please don’t take this as an opportunity to get together with all of your friends in gatherings and in close contact.”

Raimondo further implored people of all ages, not just high school or college students, to “please cut it out” regarding physical contact, no matter how well-meaning it may be.

“It’s not just about you, it’s about the fact that you will spread this to your friends and neighbors and loved ones and we need to shut this virus down as quickly as possible…” the governor said. “Rhode Island is actually quite fortunate in that we have a limited number of cases and our ability to smooth the curve depends on everyone heeding this advice, which I recognize is radical, we’ve never lived through it before, but it’s what we have to do to help one another.”

As part of asking Rhode Islanders to avoid large gatherings, she implored people to avoid religious services or faith-based gatherings today, saying she knew it was a difficult request of “extraordinary cooperation,” but one being done with the health of everyone in the state in mind.

Her guidance with the direction of Alexander-Scott was for pastors to cancel Masses and services this weekend and next weekend as a matter of public health, with the governor noting the “quicker we react, the better we will be.”

“This weekend in particular is an especially important weekend, as we’re in the early stages of trying to shut down this crisis,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo also announced several additional measures to ensure access to healthcare, including that HealthSource RI, Rhode Island’s health exchange, will open a special enrollment period to allow Rhode Islanders to purchase coverage through April 15; that all health insurers in Rhode Island have been ordered to protect access to care while the state of emergency is in place; that all insurers must allow people to seek primary and mental health care remotely; and that the state is requiring coverage for advanced prescription refills and medical supplies before refill dates to be able to maintain at least a 30-day supply at home.

Additionally, the governor said, there will be no out-of-pocket expenses for anyone associated with coronavirus testing.

Raimondo also called on people to stay informed, saying “the stories that are pouring into us about misinformation are rising. It’s deeply disturbing that at this time folks are engaging in fear-mongering and spreading of misinformation.”

“It’s important that you go out and buy whatever food you think you need, it’s not a great time to be hoarding, we’re hearing that the shelves are empty, there’s no need to do that right now … They’re going to continue to be refilled on a regular basis, so buy what you need but remember everyone needs to eat and so be careful, be sensible about it,” Raimondo said.

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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