TORONTO -- The Children’s Health Coalition (CHC) is urging the Doug Ford government to pursue a “cautious approach” to reopening the province amid a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition, composed of a number of children’s health organizations including SickKids and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, is calling on the government to “double down” on the current measures that are being used to keep schools open and protect the health of youth.

“Children and youth must be a priority in the pandemic recovery – for the sake of their future and the sake of our province’s future. We must stay the course in our schools, while always looking ahead and acting swiftly to prioritize the needs of children and youth,” the CHC said in a statement issued on Friday.

The statement comes ahead of an expected announcement from the government on lifting further public health restrictions next week.

The CHC emphasized the importance of in-person learning and acknowledged that current public health measures to limit virus spread are working to protect students.

“Data from Public Health Ontario suggests that the overall efforts to limit virus transmission, such as masking, distancing and vaccinations, have been successful with less than a 0.25 per cent (approximately 4,768 cases between September 5 and October 2) of Ontario’s two million student population testing positive and an average of 2 to 3 cases per school outbreak,” CHC said.

The coalition also noted that among the total number of cases in children and youth between Sept. 19 and Oct. 2, 79.5 per cent were not linked to school outbreaks.

On Oct. 15, 80 school-related COVID-19 cases were reported among Ontario’s 4,844 public schools and three schools were closed due to outbreaks.

The coalition added that protecting the well-being of those aged five to 11 who are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine is crucial for keeping schools open.

“That means the rest of us – teachers, support staff, eligible students, parents, caregivers and the community at large need to get vaccinated and continue with known public health measures such as masking, distancing and staying home when sick,” CHC said.

To support long-term safety, the CHC said it supports mandatory disclosure of COVID-19 vaccination in schools for eligible children and youth.

Earlier this week, sources told CTV News Toronto that the provincial government is expected to announce its plan to exit Step 3 of its reopening plan next week, potentially removing capacity limits for restaurants, gyms and other settings.

Last week, the Ford government abruptly lifted capacity limits at select indoor and outdoor settings that require proof of vaccination, including sports venues, theatres and concert arenas.

However, there continues to be a 50 per cent indoor capacity limit for gyms and restaurants, resulting in backlash from some of those businesses who are calling the measures unfair.