The immunological features that distinguish COVID-19-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) from other causes of ARDS are incompletely understood. Here, we report the results of comparative lower respiratory tract transcriptional profiling of tracheal aspirate from 52 critically ill patients with ARDS from COVID-19 or from other etiologies, as well as controls without ARDS. In contrast to a “cytokine storm,” we observe reduced proinflammatory gene expression in COVID-19 ARDS when compared to ARDS due to other causes. COVID-19 ARDS is characterized by a dysregulated host response with increased PTEN signaling and elevated expression of genes with non-canonical roles in inflammation and immunity. In silico analysis of gene expression identifies several candidate drugs that may modulate gene expression in COVID-19 ARDS, including dexamethasone and granulocyte colony stimulating factor. Compared to ARDS due to other types of viral pneumonia, COVID-19 is characterized by impaired interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression. The relationship between SARS-CoV-2 viral load and expression of ISGs is decoupled in patients with COVID-19 ARDS when compared to patients with mild COVID-19. In summary, assessment of host gene expression in the lower airways of patients reveals distinct immunological features of COVID-19 ARDS.