Genome-wide association studies have identified 3p21.31 as the main risk locus for severe COVID-19, although underlying mechanisms remain elusive. We perform an epigenomic dissection of 3p21.31, identifying a CTCF-dependent tissue-specific 3D regulatory chromatin hub that controls the activity of several chemokine receptor genes. Risk SNPs colocalize with regulatory elements and are linked to increased expression of CCR1 , CCR2 and CCR5 in monocytes and macrophages. As excessive organ infiltration of inflammatory monocytes and macrophages is a hallmark of severe COVID-19, our findings provide a rationale for the genetic association of 3p21.31 variants with elevated risk of hospitalization upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s13059-022-02669-z.