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A man who dedicated his career to education — spending 20 years at an all-girls private Catholic high school in Queens, rising the ranks from teacher and coach to athletic director and most recently to assistant principal of student life — has died as a result of the coronavirus.
Joseph Lewinger, 42, an assistant principal at the Mary Louis Academy in Queens, New York, died after spending more than 11 days in the hospital, including on a ventilator in the ICU.
According to a statement released by the school, Lewinger began feeling sick in early March when he woke up with a fever. At the time, he was told he did not qualify for to a COVID-19 test and that he should isolate himself at home and rest.
When his fever wouldn’t break, Lewinger went to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and his test for the coronavirus came back negative.
“After a few days while still hospitalized, he was again tested for the coronavirus; this test did come back positive for COVID-19,” the statement read.
On March 25, three days after the school announced his diagnosis, principal Ann O’Hagan-Cordes said Lewinger had died as a result of the coronavirus. According to NY1, Lewinger did not have any underlying medical conditions.
“There will be time in the future to celebrate all of Joe’s numerous accomplishments. Now is the time to grieve and mourn our tremendous loss,” O’Hagan-Cordes said in a statement. “Once again, I know we feel the need to come together, to console each other, to hug, cry, scream and say it’s not fair … sadly the time for us to do that as a community has to wait.”
“We pray that others who are inflicted with this disease recover and return to their families. We pray for those on the front lines, trying their best to save lives, that they themselves are safe.”
Lewinger also served on the board of education of the Franklin Square Union Free School District, where he was elected in 2015 and served as the board’s president in 2016, according to school district officials.
For Erica Yulo, who graduated from the Mary Louis Academy in 2009, Lewinger was more than just her history teacher.
“He was so loved for being a positive light in the community, he gave back tremendously, taught lessons beyond school books, and always made sure that his students, athletes, and faculty were always taken care of,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Yulo had not seen Lewinger in the 10 years since she graduated high school but in the past year she said she bumped into him three times, including at a concert in Brooklyn and once when she visited the school for an alumni event.
“We chatted about my current career and he told me he was proud of me. I hugged him goodbye and I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d see him,” she said. “His death has broken the hearts of the community of The Mary Louis Academy. Every student he’s ever had, every person he’s ever come across, he has made a difference in their lives.”
Lewinger’s wife, Maura, who had previously posted updates about her husband’s health on Facebook, said she’s not surprised to hear about the impact he had on people.
“I am overwhelmed, but not surprised to read so many of the amazing testimonials to the impact my husband had on the lives of everyone he met,” she wrote on Facebook. “He made me feel loved and cherished everyday…he took care of me…mind, body and spirit.”
She pleaded with people to stay home to help fight “this beast, COVID-19.”
“If my husband had to die to save others, I will make peace (one day) with the fact that his death was just as impactful as his life. But it has to be for that reason!” she wrote.
The Mary Louis Academy plans to livestream Lewinger’s mass on its Facebook page next week.
He is survived by his wife and three children. A GoFundMe page has been set up for the Lewinger family.
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Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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