We aimed to describe the clinical features in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases. We studied 134 critically ill COVID-19 cases from 30 December 2019 to 20 February 2020 in an intensive care unit (ICU) at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. Demographics, underlying diseases, therapy strategies and test results were collected and analysed from patients on admission, admission to the ICU and 48 h before death. The non-survivors were older (65.46 (s.d. 9.74) vs. 46.45 (s.d. 11.09)) and were more likely to have underlying diseases. The blood group distribution of the COVID-19 cases differed from that of the Han population in Wuhan, with type A being 43.85%; type B, 26.92%; type AB, 10% and type O, 19.23%. Non-survivors tend to develop more severe lymphopaenia, with higher C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, procalcitonin, D-dimer levels and gradually increased with time. The clinical manifestations were non-specific. Compared with survivors, non-survivors more likely to have organ function injury, and to receive mechanical ventilation, either invasively or noninvasively. Multiple organ failure and secondary bacterial infection in the later period is worthy of attention.