The pandemic coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is rapidly spreading across the globe. In this issue of the JCI, Chen and colleagues compared the clinical and immunological characteristics between moderate and severe COVID-19. The authors found that respiratory distress on admission is associated with unfavorable outcomes. Increased cytokine levels (IL-6, IL-10, and TNF-α), lymphopenia (in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells), and decreased IFN-γ expression in CD4+ T cells are associated with severe COVID-19. Overall, this study characterized the cytokine storm in severe COVID-19 and provides insights into immune therapeutics and vaccine design.