(CBS) — The New York Stock Exchange is set to reopen its trading floor on Tuesday, more than eight weeks after it moved all operations to the digital sphere when the coronavirus pandemic sent New York and other parts of the U.S. into lockdown. NYSE President Stacey Cunningham, who worked on the floor during the September 11 terror attacks, told CBS News’ Dana Jacobson about why and how they plan to pull off the return as much of New York still sits dormant under coronavirus restrictions.
“It’s going to be certainly a very historic moment, and special moment for the traders on the floor,” Cunningham said.
While those traders are eager to return, the trading floor they are coming back to will look a bit different. Personal protective equipment like face masks will be required, and social distancing guidelines will be in place. Hand sanitizer dispensers and plastic barriers will be a common presence on the floor.
Not all NYSE employees will be part of the open, either – only about 25% of the normal trader workforce will be on the floor Tuesday.
The decision to close, Cunningham said, was a crucial but clear one. Amid concerns of straining the healthcare system and putting traders and those they come into contact with at-risk, she ordered the trading floor to move to digital operations on March 23.
“There is a clarity in crisis,” she said. “You know what you need to do and you know when you need to do it.”
Though the trading floor has been closed before, such as during the 9/11 attacks, it never in its 227-year history made the shift to fully-digital operations until now.
“You always have a little bit of anxiety as you’re getting ready to see it live [digitally] for the first time, but it worked flawlessly and that’s really a testament to the teams and their preparations,” Cunningham said.
Despite the seamless transition and 80% of trading already conducted online under normal circumstances, Cunningham said the “human judgment” of in-person trading is important to smaller investors and managing the “micro-volatility” of smaller market movements.
“The traders on the floor aren’t going to stop major market movements,” she said, adding that there has been a “degradation” of the smaller-scale trades since they closed the floor.
Moreover, Cunningham claimed there was symbolism in reopening the trading floor, a beacon of hope in a time of economic uncertainty.
“The New York Stock Exchange facade is the face of capitalism, and the economy more broadly, and so recognizing the fact that we can set an example for how America should reopen – slowly, cautiously, flexibly, ready to move as needed – is an important thing for our economy,” she explained.
And while everyone on Wall Street will be celebrating Tuesday as the market’s opening bell rings, the real celebration will be saved for when America can rally back from the coronavirus pandemic, Cunningham said.
“The bell that we’ll really celebrate is when the U.S. gets to open up for business again and we can really celebrate the reopening of America,” Cunningham said.