May 4, 2020 will forever be embedded in my memory. This day marked the death of a beloved resident of my county, a woman who served 40 years as a dedicated nurse, mostly in nursing homes, helping some of the most vulnerable members of society, the elderly.

The news of her passing was not surprising due to her poor health but what did surprise me was the fact that she was one of the first in the county whose cause of death was attributed to COVID-19.

It was very sad and ironic to me that a person who dedicated her life to serving the vulnerable would find herself deathly ill and in a relatively hopeless predicament, fighting an unfamiliar enemy in a familiar environment, a nursing home.

I have learned in the past year and a half that COVID-19 is not a respecter of persons. Whether you are younger or older, healthy or ill, Democrat or Republican, caucasian or a person of color, “white collar” or “blue collar,” you are at risk.

One of my neighbors was awaiting a vaccine and remained homebound through the pandemic. Then, one day, she left her home protected with her mask and hand sanitizer to travel to her dentist’s office, a presumably “safe” environment, yet found herself a few weeks later lying in a hospital bed waving through a window to her husband of 50 years whom she would never see again.

Recently, I read about a young healthy woman who contracted COVID-19 during her third pregnancy and died due to complications of COVID shortly after giving birth.

The situations may be different, but the message is clear: COVID-19 is real and can attack anyone.

Right now, some of the most powerful weapons against COVID are getting the vaccine, practicing social distancing, masking and adhering to good hygiene.

In this age of information, news and scientific data can be quickly acquired by just the click of a mouse. Media is quick to share the latest updated information about COVID-19. In the last 18 months, people around the world have searched the internet for answers.

As a health advocate and former licensed social worker who worked in various health care settings for the last 30 years, I would like to offer a word of caution.

I consider myself an expert in very few things. I, along with my colleagues at Pisgah Legal Services, acquire knowledge that is earned through study, experience and aptitude. Our training has been obtained from reputable sources. In my career, I have assisted people in making informed health care decisions. I have taught people the importance of knowing where information is coming from, who is generating this information and how current it is.

Making health care decisions is difficult. Identifying reliable sources for information can be tedious and time consuming, but well worth your efforts. If you would like to know more about the facts of COVID-19, I would like to encourage you to refer to sources that have been tested through time.

Below is a listing of sources that medical professionals have relied upon during the pandemic. If you have any further questions or concerns about COVID-19, I encourage you to contact your local primary care physician or health department.

List of reliable sources of information: www.cdc.gov, www.who.int, TeenVax.com.

Claire Kolberg is a health advocate with Pisgah Legal Services, a nonprofit that seeks to pursue justice by providing free legal assistance and advocacy to help people with low incomes in Western North Carolina meet their basic needs and improve their lives. For more information visit pisgahlegal.org or call the Rutherfordton office at (828) 247-0297. Pisgah Legal Services is a member of the Community Health Council of Rutherford County, the host of the Health Matters columns.