CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just days after being spotted at a crowded Charlotte restaurant with no mask, Carolina Panthers defensive back Josh Hawkins has been released by the team.
Hawkins was seen dancing in a crowded space at Nikko Japanese Restaurant, with no mask, in videos on the establishment's Instagram account.
He was released by the team Monday morning. Hawkins had not played in a regular-season game since 2018.
Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule did not provide specifics, stating, "I would just say we thought it was in the best interest of the team."
Carolina has placed four players on the COVID-19 list in the last week and a half.
The videos surfacing from Nikko over the weekend showed little social distancing and low mask compliance, prompting Mecklenburg County's Deputy Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington to tweet them as well, commenting everyone should continue to wear masks and avoid gatherings.
Nikko issued the following statement to WCNC Charlotte Tuesday:
"Our commitment towards our guests’ safety and experience while ensuring the welfare of our employees has been paramount as we continue to progress through this pandemic.
We have ensured that our guests and employees are provided with a mask, displayed required postings about mask and distancing, and educated our team on information provided to us from the Mecklenburg Health Department.
Despite our best efforts, we have been made aware of a recent situation where restaurant guests may not have been following all recommended guidelines. We are currently investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened, and if we determine that all guidelines were not followed, we will take corrective action to ensure that all of our guests will have a safe dining experience."
Mecklenburg County has recently begun to see a rise in its COVID-19 metrics, following suit with the trends seen statewide.
The county is also grappling with an outbreak related to Charlotte church United House of Prayer for All People, which has now claimed five lives and sickened more than 140 people across four counties.
Events held at the church earlier this month have also spawned two coronavirus clusters in two senior living facilities.
North Carolina is now experiencing its highest average daily case increases of the entire pandemic. Friday, the state set a new daily case record, with 2,716 reported.
This week, North Carolina entered its fourth week under Phase 3 reopening. Gov. Roy Cooper recently extended the phase for three more weeks, as a response to rising coronavirus metrics.
Phase 3 is now set to expire on Friday, Nov. 13.