We analyzed public host and viral RNA sequencing data to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with human respiratory cells. We identified genes, isoforms and transposable element families that are specifically altered in SARS-CoV-2-infected respiratory cells. Well-known immunoregulatory genes including CSF2, IL32, IL-6 and SERPINA3 were differentially expressed, while immunoregulatory transposable element families were upregulated. We predicted conserved interactions between the SARS-CoV-2 genome and human RNA-binding proteins such as the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A1 (hnRNPA1) and eukaryotic initiation factor 4 (eIF4b). We also identified a viral sequence variant with a statistically significant skew associated with age of infection, that may contribute to intracellular host–pathogen interactions. These findings can help identify host mechanisms that can be targeted by prophylactics and/or therapeutics to reduce the severity of COVID-19.