CNN  — 

Florida has become the epicenter of the latest wave of the coronavirus. On Saturday, the state recorded its most daily cases since the start of the pandemic. On Sunday, it set a record for the number of people currently hospitalized.

How did Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) react to this outbreak? Oh, with an executive order that barred schools from mandating that children wear masks when they return for the 2021-2022 year.

Which runs directly counter to guidance provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.

“Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated,” read the CDC’s back-to-school guidelines. “Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

How does DeSantis explain his seeming dismissal of those CDC recommendations?

“We think that’s the most fair way to do it,” DeSantis said of his mask move, adding: “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”

So, uh, freedom? Or something? (Also, there is some debate about whether DeSantis can even ban mask mandates in local school districts.)

The disconnect between the worsening Covid-19 situation in Florida and DeSantis’ focus on ensuring that kids don’t have to wear masks when they go back to school is explained – and this will come as a surprise to exactly no one – by politics.

DeSantis has made a name for himself – both in Florida and nationally – for his hands-off approach to the virus. Florida was one of the last states to shut down last spring as the enormity of battling Covid-19 came into focus. He was one of the first governors to re-open his state. He was quick to ban any sort of mask mandate in public – and was seen at the Super Bowl in February 2021 maskless.

His “Covid? What Covid?” mindset was in line with the strategy employed by his mentor –Donald Trump. And like they did for Trump, the base of the Republican Party rallied around DeSantis – suggesting that he was holding the line against political correctness and further impingement on their freedoms.

For a very long time, DeSantis was riding high. Despite the elderly population of Florida – and his lax focus on mitigation measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 – Florida managed to avoid ever being at the center of a massive outbreak.

Which was taken by some as proof-positive that Democratic governors and even some Republicans were badly overreacting to both the threat Covid-19 posed to the public and the need to radically alter peoples’ lives to keep it from spreading.

Except now the Delta variant is running wild in Florida. The state is second in the country in cases per 100,000 residents at 74, according to The New York Times. (Louisiana is first with 89 cases per 100,000 residents.)

And because he doesn’t want to risk the support among the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2024, DeSantis is simply refusing to address the surge in any meaningful way.

As the Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson and Diti Kohli wrote over the weekend:

“According to his daily schedule this past week, DeSantis did not hold any public events whose main topic was the summer surge.

“DeSantis held two events about the dangers of mandating masks in schools. In between, he traveled to Utah to speak at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council conference. Throughout the week, Florida’s governor criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its recommendation that vaccinated people wear masks inside in some situations.”

The one time in recent days that DeSantis talked about the drastic increase in cases, he seemed to downplay it. “If you look at the seasonal wave we’re experiencing in Florida, that’s being driven a lot by a lot of younger people,” DeSantis said last Friday. “They’re not getting really sick from it or anything.”

To date, Covid-19 deaths have not surged in Florida. Which is a very good thing. But there’s no question that the situation in the state has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. And yet, DeSantis’ behavior hasn’t changed one bit.

This is what it looks like when politics (and future political ambition) crash directly into the practical realities of governing a state as large and influential nationally as Florida. It’s not a pretty sight.