EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is OK with urging Texans to get vaccinated but is staying out of the mask mandate debate between the governor and some local governments.

“Not everyone has been vaccinated that’s why I feel social distancing is still important. If you feel sick stay home. We weren’t told the vaccine was 100% effective […] but even if the vaccine is only 90% effective, it just makes sense to me for everybody who has not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated,” the Texas Republican said on Tuesday.

Cornyn met with El Paso County officials and the staff of University Medical Center, whom he got to know following the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at a local Walmart. He also toured Fort Bliss, an Army installation that’s housing 2,500 unaccompanied migrant children at a Health and Human Services Emergency Intake Site.

Cornyn said El Paso officials are anxious to raise vaccination rates to bring about a rollback of non-essential border travel restrictions, which have deprived many merchants of their Mexican clients since March 2020.

“We are trying to close in on this virus, put it in the rearview mirror and get back to life as normal,” Cornyn told reporters at the county hospital. “I’ve been vaccinated, my family whom I love and care about has been vaccinated and I would just encourage anybody who hasn’t been vaccinated to get vaccinated whether it’s in El Paso or anywhere else.”

When asked about the ongoing legal fight between several Texas school districts and local governments who’ve defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandate against the compulsory wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the senator called on all parties to “try to find common ground.”

“Texas is a big diverse place and it’s hard to make one size fit all,” Cornyn said. “I know the governor has worked in consultation with local officials on mask requirements and there’s been some difference of opinion – and that doesn’t’ surprise me,” he said. “My hope is that the leaders at the state level and local level can continue to work together as they have up until this point to find common ground to protect the public.”

‘I hope we are not too late (to save them)’

Cornyn on Tuesday received briefings at Fort Bliss about the EIS site and preparations to temporarily accommodate evacuated Afghan refugees as well.

“They are prepared to take as many as 10,000 of those Afghans who worked alongside their American partners all these many years to try to combat terrorism and make America safe,” the senator said. “My prayers at this point (are) we aren’t too late to get them out of the country.”

Fort Bliss is already hosting thousands of migrant children who stay at tents run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The tents can hold up to 10,000 unaccompanied minors at a time, but Cornyn said only 2,500 were there on Tuesday and the average stay was seven days.

“Fort Bliss is a big place,” he said. “The (post commander) briefed me this morning and said they have more than enough space to accommodate the Afghan refugees. My hope is that we can get those people out of Afghanistan that we’ve worked with these past 20 years because if we can’t, many of them will simply be killed along with their families.”

Former contract workers and a handful of federal whistle-blowers alerted the public and the federal government to poor care and maintenance at the EIS site earlier this year. That drew numerous grass-roots protests from community groups, including some that have been supportive of Biden administration policies in general.

Cornyn said he didn’t see any red flags at the children’s camp while he visited.

“I got a chance to meet with a number of them, talk to them and they’re being well-cared for and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he was pleased to have Cornyn visit the city and the hospital.

“We are always complaining people come here and they don’t reach out to the leadership. It becomes a little frustrating we’re not able to sit at the same table and have a discussion,” Samaniego said. “We spent maybe 30 minutes prior to this meeting here talking about some of the funding that we need. It’s really important that we reach out to individuals of that caliber to support El Paso.”

Samaniego said he wants public schools to mandate children wear face masks in class to protect them from COVID-19. The county so far has fully vaccinated 71.2% of the population 12 years and older, but no children.

“We know what their situation is … we don’t want to be in a critical situation. Here hospital beds by non-COVID individuals are near capacity. Any spike in our community takes us back into the November days as far as the hospitals are concerned. The non-COVID numbers are really high,” the county judge said, referring to the October-November coronavirus spike that filled local hospitals and morgues.

He said local hospitals are filling up because a lot of residents put off treatment for various conditions during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, and now they’re rushing to take care of them.