As the COVID-19 pandemic pushes on, students at the College of William and Mary have spent the past year avoiding Richmond Hall, the designated quarantine dorm on campus. Director of Conference and Events Services Mariellynn Maurer ’95, however, spends nearly every day there.
Maurer runs the quarantine housing program that serves students living on campus who contract COVID-19 or are otherwise instructed to quarantine. She works in a team of four, along with Todd Cooke, Logan Zumbrun and Madelyn Phillips. Maurer and her colleagues handle all the logistics and support services for students in Richmond Hall, including meal delivery, laundry, mail pickup and cleaning.
“In standing it up, I met with a lot of people across the university, who really were key players to help inform and help us make it robust and sustainable,” Maurer said. “As the semester started, and we started to have more cases, we realized it was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job. And there’s only four of us.”
Maurer and her team work in pairs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Often, they work beyond those hours depending on incoming positive cases, which can occur at any time. Maurer said her day can start as early as 8 a.m. To relieve the workload somewhat, a volunteer team of dispatchers help Maurer monitor incoming deliveries and transport packages and food to the correct rooms. Most of the dispatcher volunteers are also employees of the College, primarily from Auxiliary Services.
Maurer herself has a background in event planning and coordination. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and most in-person functions were canceled, the events team realized they would need to switch roles.
“We already probably were the one other department on campus who really knew a lot about residence halls and running them and just all the things about the facility — the maintenance, what to look for, security, expectations and standards that the university has for the residence halls,” Maurer said. “And so when COVID came, and the realization after the working groups began for the Path Forward, realizing how much additional work and how much change was going to be down the road for Residence Life as they navigated move-in and trying to bring everybody back to campus in the fall and all the changes that they were going to have to handle in the residence halls. They looked to us to partner with them to help since we were kind of their existing partner.”
Conference services had been used to working unusual and long hours. At the height of conference season in June and July, Maurer said there could be up to 80 or 90 conferences and special events happening on campus. While the team was no stranger to an intense schedule, running Richmond Hall has proven to be a marathon, with no definite end in sight.
“We don’t really know when the end is coming. That’s probably the part where the unknown wears on us, just the same way that the unknown wears on so many people. And I think that’s really where tiredness comes from. Having to approach each day with as much intensity and care and sensitivity as you did in the very beginning — not getting tired or lazy about anything, because that could have a lot of really negative effects.”
“We don’t really know when the end is coming,” Maurer said. “That’s probably the part where the unknown wears on us, just the same way that the unknown wears on so many people. And I think that’s really where tiredness comes from. Having to approach each day with as much intensity and care and sensitivity as you did in the very beginning — not getting tired or lazy about anything, because that could have a lot of really negative effects. If we were to make mistakes, but also, kind of just not knowing when is all of this going to be finished? You know, when will COVID end? And when will we not need quarantine housing to support students anymore? We don’t really know the answer to that, as we don’t know the answer to so many questions.”
The long-term unknowns wear on Maurer more than the daily work. While building the quarantine program from the ground-up with very little precedent was not easy, Maurer said the team celebrates the little joys. Early on, when a student left quarantine, they would celebrate with a ‘congratulations’ banner and pom-poms.
“And you know, we were really excited for them,” Maurer said. “And they were really excited that they made it through. And that was 14 days back then. Now it’s 10 days. But we still get really excited when somebody finishes, and they get to return.”
Students in isolation have very few interactions with the outside world. Maurer and her team know that they may be the only people students see for weeks. Since students are only able to open their doors to get fresh air — but not allowed to take walks or go outside — Maurer and her team will engage students in physically distant, masked conversations. Daily food drop-offs become an event.
Maurer is in constant contact with the testing and tracing team, Dining Services and the Student Health Center, as well as trainers for athletes in quarantine. She also coordinates maintenance and housekeeping visits — after each room is vacated, it is locked down for seven days before anyone can enter to clean it.
The Richmond Hall team has also worked to facilitate less obvious services for students. At the beginning of each semester, for example, they had to coordinate with the bookstore for textbook drop-offs. As arrivals picked up, the team pre-packaged utensils, flatware and coffee kits. Students also have access to a pantry — which Maurer described as a smaller version of the student exchange — from which students can purchase additional goods and snacks with their dining dollars. Maurer said that they are also looking to partner with AMP and other organizations on campus to provide programming for students in isolation.
“Nobody wants to end up in quarantine or isolation,” Maurer said. “And nobody’s ever happy when they arrive. But our hope is that we can just keep them comfortable and supported and connected. And make that time go quickly so they can make a smooth transition back to campus.”
Ultimately, Maurer said she tries to see things from a student’s perspective and learn along the way. Her hope is to give each new arrival an easier quarantine experience than the last.
“I think oftentimes, unless you know somebody who has been through Richmond Hall, it may be very nerve wracking to think about having to come to Richmond Hall,” Maurer said. “But I would just want them to know that we are there. We always say we’re there to make what is usually an uncomfortable situation as comfortable as possible, through service. That’s really what we’re doing is just trying to tend to their needs.”