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How Big Businesses Get a 'Deep Clean' in Coronavirus Pandemic

On a recent day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, traders were cheek-to-cheek as stock prices flashed above them. They stood in clusters shouting, sharing screens, sharing pizza, sharing pens. They shook hands, leaned over shoulders, patted each others’ backs, hugged. There were no windows open.

The New York Stock Exchange was not built for social distancing. But it is not ready to close and send the traders home because of the coronavirus.

And so, starting late Friday night, the stock exchange got fully sanitized for the first time since the iconic neoclassical building opened in 1903. More precisely, it got a “deep clean.”

The process took eight hours and a crew of 10 specialists. These deep cleanings are planned to be repeated weekly, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. But those in charge of the building and many of the traders themselves believe the New York Stock Exchange — a symbol of American economic might and stability — is too important to shut down.

“The stock exchange is a sign of strength,” said Stacey Cunningham, president of the New York Stock Exchange. “That’s why we’re open.”

John Tuttle, vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, added, “The bell always rings, rain or shine. It’s the most sacred 40 square feet in finance.”

The stock market closed Friday up more than 9 percent after a stressful week that included what was then the worst single-day drop since the 1987 Black Monday crash.

Around 5 p.m., the CNBC crew that broadcasts from the floor of the exchange turned their lights off.

The traders were exhausted. They filed out. The regular cleaning crew came through with trash bags and brooms.

At 6 p.m., the new crew came in through the colonnade, under the pediment with massive carved stone figures representing science, industry, agriculture and mining. They were from an outside firm, Tech Clean Industries. They were familiar with the stock exchange — they usually cleaned the building’s ducts, fans, air pumps and heaters. Now they had been fitted with new gear and the task of deep cleaning.

There had been arguments to close the building. Much of the work that once happened on the trading floor now happens online, executed by algorithms, quietly, with no handshaking.

But the work that traders do in person reduces volatility and adds a layer of human-guided assurance to the market, many of them said.

“It’s like a plane. It can fly itself,” Ms. Cunningham said. “But when you’re managing critical situations you want people involved, with human eyes on each stock.”

Tim Anderson, the managing director of TJM investments who works in a pod on the trading floor, said he had been trying to shake hands less and hug less. He was using hand sanitizer more. He said he had no intention of staying home from work.

“It would be a very bad optic for the building to close,” he said, adding that he was excited about the sanitation effort. “I mean look, I think it’d be a great idea to do it once a month even if there wasn’t a virus.”

The disinfection crew wore matching hazardous material suits, reflective yellow vests, doubled-up blue gloves, goggles and purple respirators. They filled spray bottles and fanned out across the floor. They would be working until the morning. They would clean every surface that people had touched.

The place was pretty messy, truth be told.

There is a long tradition of writing notes and arithmetic on scraps of paper and dropping them, ripped up, on the floor. And so last Friday, there were the scraps, along with piles of candy wrappers, water bottles, pizza oil-covered paper plates, tin foil, and many balled up napkins, which doubled as stress balls for the traders during the day.

The hazmat suit-clad cleaning team wandered and sprayed every surface — computers, chair legs, tables, floor, everything — with Z BioScience Multi-Task Probiotic Cleaner. They threw out every paper they encountered, making piles of notes and printer paper. They wiped the surfaces down.

Next, they rolled out a big yellow tank and a couple of crew members put on tank backpacks. Using a specialized sprayer that looked like a paint gun, they coated everything with Anasphere, a biohazard disinfectant. This was the most toxic step.

They left the disinfectant there for about ten minutes to allow it to cure. They worked quietly at the beginning. As the night wore on, they talked and joked a little more.

The last step was preventive. They applied a probiotic layer — Z BioScience Enviro-Mist Microflora spray — that would stay on all the surfaces and buy them a couple more days until the process needed to start again.

Jim Katsarelis, the stock exchange’s head of building operations who oversees efforts to keep the building clean every day, said he knows keeping the surfaces sanitized was not enough to prevent the spread of a virus that comes from bodies, traveling from a sneeze or a wiped nose and a handshake.

So “we also have new rules — no shaking hands, no hugging, no kissing,” he said, adding that it was hard because, “We’re affectionate people.”

He talked about keeping the building open as a civic obligation.

“I drive over the Long Island bridge, and it always amazes me the beauty of the city skyline, and I see this place equal to that,” Mr. Katsarelis said. “I want to keep it open, and I want to keep it clean, and I want to keep us healthy so I can do it for a little bit longer.”

The disinfection crew sprayed just about everything but the opening bell.

They finished early Saturday morning, funneling out in civilian clothes before the sun rose over Wall Street, quiet on a weekend.

On Monday morning, as New York schools, restaurants and shops stayed dark and with subways eerily quiet, the stock exchange lit up like normal. On Sunday, the Federal Reserve had cut interest rates to near zero to help stimulate the economy.

The CNBC lights came back on. The stock prices flashed. Traders returned, not quite elbow to elbow anymore.

“This is one of four buildings that defines America: the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the New York Stock Exchange. All three branches of government and then the economy,” Mr. Tuttle said. “We can’t close.”

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