Critically ill COVID-19 patients under invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) are at greatly increased risk of death compared to the general population. While some drivers of COVID-19 disease progression, such as inflammation and hypercoagulability, have been identified, they do not completely explain the mortality of critically ill COVID-19 patients, making a search for overlooked factors necessary. A recent study examined the virome of tracheal aspirates from 25 COVID-19 patients under IMV. These samples were compared to tracheal aspirates from non-COVID patients and nasopharyngeal swabs from individuals with mild COVID-19. Critically ill COVID-19 patients had elevated expression of human endogenous retrovirus K (HERV-K), and elevated HERV-K expression in tracheal aspirate and plasma was associated with early mortality in those same patients. Among deceased patients, HERV-K expression was associated with IL-17-related inflammation, monocyte activation, and increased consumption of clotting factors. A subsequent in vitro experiment found that exposure to SARS-CoV-2 increased HERV-K expression in human primary monocytes from healthy donors. This preliminary study only included 25 individuals but implicates HERV-K in the physiopathology of COVID-19 and suggests that HERV-K could be used as a biomarker of disease severity in COVID-19 patients.