The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a public health emergency of international concern. The current study aims to explore whether the neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) and platelet-to-lymphocyte ratio (PLR) are associated with the development of death in patients with COVID-19. A total of 131 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 from 13 February 2020 to 14 March 2020 in a hospital in Wuhan designated for treating COVID-19 were enrolled in the current study. These 131 patients had a median age of 64 years old (interquartile range: 56–71 years old). Furthermore, among these patients, 111 (91.8%) patients were discharged and 12 (9.2%) patients died in the hospital. The pooled analysis revealed that the NLR at admission was significantly elevated for non-survivors, when compared to survivors (P < 0.001). The NLR of 3.338 was associated with all-cause mortality, with a sensitivity of 100.0% and a specificity of 84.0% (area under the curve (AUC): 0.963, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.911–1.000; P < 0.001). In view of the small number of deaths (n = 12) in the current study, NLR of 2.306 might have potential value for helping clinicians to identify patients with severe COVID-19, with a sensitivity of 100.0% and a specificity of 56.7% (AUC: 0.729, 95% CI 0.563–0.892; P = 0.063). The NLR was significantly associated with the development of death in patients with COVID-19. Hence, NLR is a useful biomarker to predict the all-cause mortality of COVID-19.