The inflammatory response to SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is thought to underpin COVID-19 pathogenesis. We conducted daily transcriptomic profiling of three COVID-19 cases and found that the early immune response in COVID-19 patients is highly dynamic. Patient throat swabs were tested daily for SARS-CoV-2, with the virus persisting for 3 to 4 weeks in all three patients. Cytokine analyses of whole blood revealed increased cytokine expression in the single most severe case. However, most inflammatory gene expression peaked after respiratory function nadir, except expression in the IL1 pathway. Parallel analyses of CD4 and CD8 expression suggested that the pro-inflammatory response may be intertwined with T cell activation that could exacerbate disease or prolong the infection. Collectively, these findings hint at the possibility that IL1 and related pro-inflammatory pathways may be prognostic and serve as therapeutic targets for COVID-19. This work may also guide future studies to illuminate COVID-19 pathogenesis and develop host-directed therapies.