Quail Creek has made a lot of mistakes in the past couple of weeks. Their latest email to residents on Thursday included a few more, but they’re headed in the right direction.

The story rolls out

About a week ago, I heard from quite a few people that a Quail Creek restaurant employee had tested positive for coronavirus. A couple of the people I heard from work for Robson Communities, which operates Quail Creek.

Nobody was surprised that the virus got past the guarded gate but they were plenty disappointed with how little information Quail Creek General Manager David Jones was willing to share about it.

We’re dealing with a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States. The concern was understandable.

When I asked Quail Creek about it, two odd things happened.

First, an email to Steve Soriano, who works at the corporate office in the Phoenix area, came back saying, “The recipient’s mailbox is full and can’t accept messages now.”

That’s the first time in my life I’ve heard of an in-box being full.

Then, Quail Creek had its Scottsdale PR firm contact me; corporate and Jones were silent.

PR firms have a reputation for puffery and obfuscation and this one did not disappoint. The first email contained exactly zero useful information. The second one caused me to reach for my waders.

In it, Jennifer Kaplan of Evolve stated, “Due to CDC and EEOC guidance and protocols for employee confidentiality, the Quail Creek POA cannot disclose further details about the employee who tested positive or whether any other employees are getting tested.”

That’s baloney and I called her on it. Still waiting for her to produce those protocols.

Uh, not quite

But things have improved a bit. Thursday’s email to residents is Quail Creek’s best effort to come clean; of course, they didn’t do it until two news stories and scores of angry residents painted them into a corner. Here’s what we learned:

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•The employee is in the restaurant and last worked May 9.

•The employee told QC about a positive test May 18, the same day co-workers were informed and the email went out to residents.

•“Due to the nature and location of the employee’s position, it is very unlikely that the employee came into direct contact with any homeowners during work.” (I’m going to guess that “very unlikely” isn’t going to instill a lot of confidence among those who’ve eaten there recently. I’d also guess they’d have liked an earlier heads-up that it was a restaurant employee.)

•According to Quail Creek, “A fictitious ‘employee,’ using the name Benny Lopez, began posting reviews about the Grill online beginning May 19.” The email goes on to say they don’t have an employee named “Benny Lopez” and that his account was created “specifically to post negative reviews.” It continues: “As many of you have seen, this fictitious ‘employee’ is being touted as a source for a recent news article.” (Well, not quite. The review was posted on Yelp.com by “Benny L.” Yelp does not use last names so I’m not sure where they got Lopez. Benny has posted one review (not “reviews”), and it was all about QC’s response to the positive test — nothing negative about the restaurant itself. QC also neglected to mention that Benny posted an internal memo to employees signed by Food & Beverage Director Benjamin Castro. If Benny’s a fake, he’s sure well-connected. Quail Creek didn’t respond to a request to verify the memo, but we didn’t need them to. Castro replied to the post online and didn’t call it into question. (And do you really think an employee taking pot shots at the company is going to use a real name?)

•Now, Quail Creek says a second employee has tested positive, also in Food & Beverage. Quail Creek has offered “to cover the cost of testing for those employees who express interest.” (I’d asked the PR agency a few days ago if other employees were being tested and was told it would be an EEOC violation to share any information about that. I guess now they can.)

Missed the mark

Quail Creek’s email took great pains to share what they’ve done to keep residents safe thus far — closing down early, lots of cleaning, reopening slowly, that kind of stuff.

That really wasn’t necessary. Quail Creek is and always has been a quality operation. I’ve eaten there many times and would have no problem going to the restaurant tomorrow. It’s one of the cleanest businesses in our area with professional staff and great food.

But stuff happens, and Quail Creek had to know it would be facing a Covid-19 case sooner or later. That’s why this dumpster fire of a response was so surprising. To be sure, a couple of cases of Covid-19 is not Quail Creek’s biggest problem.

The lack of transparency and a take-charge response kept residents in the dark and raised more questions (and angst) with each passing day. In journalism-speak, we call that turning a one-day story into a week-long story. PR agencies are supposed to help you avoid that.

In short, they all blew it on this one, and their email Thursday didn’t go nearly far enough in rectifying things. There are a lot of questions remaining, including exactly how much interaction the employees had with diners and the status of the first one — is that person back at work? Are there new cleaning protocols? Temperature checks? Will the community be notified if there are more cases? And why the secrecy at the outset when many good businesses nationwide, big and small, have bent over backward to inform employees, customers and the community?

Best advice to Quail Creek? Your residents are smart people. Read your email, know their concerns and give out a lot more information. It’ll keep you out of the papers.

— Dan Shearer