Is That Sniffle a Cold? Or Is It Covid?

There is a distinction between reasonable fear and anxiety that becomes disproportionate and all-consuming, said Dr. Itai Danovitch, the chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. A meta-analysis of dozens of community-based studies on mental health and the coronavirus showed that anxiety among the general population has increased threefold during the pandemic.

But in such tumultuous times, a certain level of anxiety is understandable, he said.

“It is important to normalize how people are feeling: Anxiety and fear are common, it’s OK to feel anxiety, it’s OK to feel low, it’s OK to feel some distress,” Dr. Danovitch said.

Since Rachel McEneny, of Albany, N.Y., began sniffling last Saturday, she has taken two rapid tests, both negative. Yet when a housekeeper came to her home, Ms. McEneny drove her car in circles around the neighborhood with her dog, Yaeger, afraid that she might give her employee the coronavirus in the remote case that both tests had produced a false negative.

As Ms. McEneny’s illness dragged on, she was unconvinced by the at-home test results and took a P.C.R. test on Thursday. She began wearing a mask when watching television with her teenage daughter.

“You are wearing a mask and you’re hiding from people and you’re absolutely miserable and you’re so worried,” said Ms. McEneny, 49, the commissioner of administrative services for Albany, who considered canceling her Christmas dinner plans. Compounding her anxiety, she added, is the stigma of being sick in public — with anything — in the coronavirus era.

“The minute I hack people wince being around you — and I do it too,” she said. “Socially you don’t want to be part of that.” Late Friday evening she got her results back: Her illness was not Covid.

For many workers, the rigmarole of sorting out which illness they have — a cold they can handle with Gatorade and NyQuil, or the coronavirus, for which health officials recommend a period of isolation — can translate into lost wages or worry that they are leaving their employers in the lurch.