Even with cases surging, if hospitalizations were not rising, that might suggest that this outbreak might be less deadly than the spring’s. But hospitalization data maintained by the COVID Tracking Project suggested otherwise as early as June 23. On that date, hospitalizations began to tick up across the South and West, and they have not stopped. It’s possible we’ll match the national peak number of hospitalizations from the spring outbreak over the next week.

Even if better knowledge of the disease and new treatments have improved outcomes by 25 or even 50 percent, so many people are now in the hospital that some of them will almost certainly die.

There was always a logical, simple explanation for why cases and hospitalizations rose through the end of June while deaths did not: It takes a while for people to die of COVID-19 and for those deaths to be reported to authorities.

So why has there been so much confusion about the COVID-19 death toll? The second surge is inconvenient for the Trump administration and the Republican governors who followed its lead, as well as for Mike Pence, the head of the coronavirus task force, who declared victory in a spectacularly incorrect Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’”